CAPE TOWN – Blitzboks' coach Neil Powell says one pleasing aspect of their Sevens World Cup campaign is the performance they produced to beat Fiji and claim the bronze medal in San Francisco.
The Blitzboks put up a big performance to secure a 24-19 win over the Fijians - something Powell added was especially pleasing seeing as how the Islanders have caused them a fair number of problems during the World Sevens Series.
In the end it didn’t matter much, though, as the Blitzboks went on to win back-to-back Series titles, but it’s not hard to see why Powell regarded their third-place play-off victory over their fellow Sevens giants as an especially sweet one.
“What is most pleasing for me is after that disappointment against England, we came out firing against Fiji and outplayed them to finish the season on a very strong performance,” Powell said.
“We have lost against them six times during the World Series, so to be able to beat them here was a huge effort from the players. We will never be happy with anything but first place, but the bronze does help to justify the efforts and sacrifices.”
The Blitzboks went into the World Cup as top seeds, and due to their massive success on the circuit in recent years, it’s easy to see why the expectations were so high - high enough for their semi-final exit against England to be described as a “major upset” and a “shock” by commentators.
And in a sense it was, not only because Powell’s troops were favourites to take gold, but also because of the quality of their performance against England.
While the breakdown refereeing in that game could certainly rival the tournament’s straight knock-out format (which saw Australia exit Cup contention on the opening day) when it comes to interesting World Cup occurrences, the South Africans didn’t do themselves any favours and were outplayed by a more clinical English side.
And the difference in the level of intensity and pure rampage between the Blitzboks’ earlier games - including a 45-7 thrashing of Ireland and a near-flawless 35-5 victory over Scotland in the quarter-final to book their first semi in 21 years - was evident. And perhaps that is what made the 29-7 result against England a hard one to swallow.
But while their outing against England was certainly an uncharacteristic one, that doesn’t erase the successful year the Blitzboks have had - success that wouldn’t come with a pinch of disappointment had it been any other sporting team.
Earlier this season, the Springbok Sevens side finished fourth at the Commonwealth Games - their lowest placing in a major event this season.
Powell congratulated New Zealand - who along with the Black Ferns became the first teams to secure a ‘double-double’ and successfully defend their World Cup Sevens titles after also celebrating in Moscow four years ago.
This is the New Zealand men’s side's third World Cup title.
“They clearly know how to pitch for once-off tournaments, as they also won the Commonwealth gold, so well done to them. It was a great effort from them,” Powell said.
The Blitzboks arrive back in South Africa on Wednesday.