The Blitzboks kept their best for their last match in another disappointing series where they salvaged some pride by beating Australia in the play-off for fifth place.
It win was revenge for their defeat to Australia in the pool stages which was made more enjoyable that it was the new record holder of tournaments for South Africa, Kyle Brown, who scored with just three seconds on the clock remaining to make the final score 12-10.
It was Brown’s 69th tournament, one for which has was not selected but only named as 13th man. The injury to team captain Philip Snyman led to Brown’s call-up for the last day’s matches and the record previously held by Frankie Horn who played in 68 successive tournaments
The Sydney7s, despite the happy last seconds, was not a happy hunting ground for South Africa’s sevens team. Their below par performances in the present World Rugby Sevens series was underlined when they were eliminated in the quarter-final where they were well-beaten by England (5-26) after losing the pool match to Australia 21-29. They then easily accounted for relative newcomers to the series, Spain (33-0) in the semi-final to reach the fifth place play-off final.
The Blitzboks are still in fourth opposition on the series standings, but are 19 points behind co-leaders New Zealand and the USA (both 76 points) who played in the Sydney7s Cup final on Sunday. New Zealand won 21-5 to take the gold medal.
The bronze medal was won by England, who beat Fiji 19-17 who are third in the standings.
Leading standings after Sydney ‒
New Zealand 76
♦ Despite still being in the top four teams on the standings, the Blitzboks have struggled to put a decent run together in the four tournaments to date.
It is fair to say that they are trailing by too many points to harbour any hope of a third series title. Their performances also have not suggested that this is possible. The fifth place in Sydney follows a fourth place in the lost semi-final in New Zealand last week, a bronze medal in Cape Town and a sixth place in the first tournament in Dubai.
This article is not meant as criticism of the coaching staff or even the players. It is simply circumstances and the turning of the wheel after losing some special players in the past two seasons who are not that easily replaced. Seabelo Senatla, Kwagga Smith, Ruan Nel, Rosko Specman, Dylan Sage and Tim Agaba are all back with franchises in the fifteens game, and Cecil Africa is still injured.
In the rebuilding phase, the same shortcomings manifested in all four the tournaments. Too many tackles were missed, there were too many handling errors, and the speed that helped to make them an outstanding team over the past few years, is largely missing from the current Blitzboks.
There is also the reality that some of the remaining stars from the two series wins that did not revert back to fifteens with the franchises have lost their edge. Chris Dry, back after a 13 months injury lay-off, Philip Snyman, Kyle Brown and Branco du Preez all now have another year on their rugby clocks. It shows in their general speed and their lesser energy and productivity on attack and defence.
Some good and exciting young talent is being developed. But more speed needs to be found, and also more bulk in the backs to counter the aggressive and bigger sides like Fiji, the USA, England, and New Zealand.
Sunday’s win against the Aussies was, however, an improvement.