CAPE TOWN - THE Blitzboks showed their class in overcoming a challenging build-up to register a comfortable 33-14 victory over Ireland in their Tokyo Olympics rugby sevens opener on Monday morning.
The Springbok Sevens team have had a difficult time since arriving in Japan due to Covid-19 protocols, which saw their training camp in Kagoshima delayed by a few days after another passenger on their flight tested positive for the coronavirus.
Then worse was to follow when coach Neil Powell contracted Covid-19 himself, and he has been restricted to isolation in a Kagoshima hotel, which has forced him to help guide the team via Zoom meetings online.
Assistant coach Renfred Dazel had to take over on the pitch, along with high performance manager Marius Schoeman, but their training sessions were hampered by the fact that some of the players were deemed close contacts to Powell and had to stay in a hotel outside the Olympic Village.
But they played with great energy and intensity in their first match against the Irish. The likes of Zain Davids and Chris Dry were physical and knocked the opposition defenders out of the way, while Justin Geduld and Selvyn Davids pulled the strings on attack.
It was Zain Davids who scored the first try with some fancy footwork in the third minute, but Ireland defended well after that.
It took a while for the South Africans to get on to the score-sheet again, but the execution of it was worth the wait as Geduld put in a deft chip to the left for Impi Visser to gather and score.
It looked like the Blitzboks would shut out the Irish in the first half as they found their rhythm on attack, but the European outfit held on to possession with some clever side-stepping, stretching the SA defence before Gavin Mullin cantered over.
That would’ve led to some nerves for the South Africans at the break, but they hit back strongly in the second half.
Their tackling was fierce and they were able to force a turnover, and Selvyn Davids used his boot to find Geduld with a kick-pass for their third try.
Ireland weren’t done yet, though, as they kept the ball alive for Terry Kennedy to go over almost untouched on the left-hand side.
It was anybody’s game at 21-14, but it was Dry who took the initiative and charged down the right towards the line, and managed to ground the ball just before going into touch after initially placing it on an Irish defender’s leg.
The Blitzboks’ depth was clear to see at the end as Bulls 15s star Stedman Gans made an appearance, and he wriggled his way over in typical fashion following a powerful run by JC Pretorius on the left.
Dazel will be a relieved man, and Powell delighted by their performance. But a tougher test awaits later on Monday (12pm SA time) when they face Kenya, who came close to beating the United States, but went down 19-14.
South Africa 33 – Tries: Zain Davids, Impi Visser, Justin Geduld, Chris Dry, Stedman Gans. Conversions: Selvyn Davids (4).
Ireland 14 – Tries: Gavin Mullin, Terry Kennedy. Conversions: Billy Dardis (2).