South Africa, sharper and more accurate in their passing, progressed to the quarter-finals in the New Zealand leg of World Rugby Sevens unbeaten and showing some of the strengths that made them winners or the previous two series.
They will face Samoa in the Hamilton tournament’s quarters.
The South Sea team beat an unconvincing England and clung to second place in Pool B when they also beat Tonga. The pool was won by the USA, the present tournament log leaders who also accounted for England (12-10) in the teams’ first match.
With crisp passing and swarming defence in the closer quarters, it was clear that lots of work had been done by the Blitzboks since the two disappointing first tournaments of the 2018/19 series in December. There was also better teamwork off the ball and on defence than in Dubai and Cape Town with the new players having grown noticeably in their roles. Better communication was an obvious spin-off.
The return of Chris Dry, out with a knee injury since December 2017, showed what a classy player this hard worker with the good feel for this game he is. On the run wide out where he was when needed, and also at the breakdowns, he brought a new dimension to the side.
The improvement in contesting from their own kick-offs was noticeable and puts them right up there with the best of the other teams in this facet, with Kyle Brown outstanding.
Weaknesses? Perhaps again the inability to keep the opposition out when they took the ball wider, although the improvement in the Blitzboks’ midfield defence was better than before.
To summarise their performances to date in Hamilton: the Blitzboks are back after two very average first tournaments! Whether their form in the pool rounds will be good enough against the likes of the All Blacks (or Wallabies) and Fiji is a matter of wait and see.
♦ The Blitzboks beat a weakened but by no means a run-over Kenyan team 29-10 in the first match, where two conversions of five tries were a concern; had a tough first half against France but put it together when it was most needed in the second half to win 17-5 with only one from three tries converted; and then outplayed Scotland, second-placed in the pool, by 26-7 with three conversions from four tries.
♦ New Zealand won Pool D with a points difference of 115 (125 points for, 10 against) in their three pool matches, albeit against rather average opponents. They beat Japan 52-0 and then Canada by 49-10, before knocking out Spain 24-0.
♦ Fiji likewise had it all their own way in their first two matches in Pool A, but had a more difficult time against Australia, who were tied on 19-all after three minutes of the second half before conceding the winner two minute from time to lose 19-26.
In the other Cup quarter-finals New Zealand will therefore play Australia in what should be a tough battle between the two Australasian sides, Fiji will face Canada, and the USA will play-off against Scotland.
Quarter-final kick-off times ‒
00:36 Fiji vs Canada
00:58 South Africa vs Samoa
01:20 New Zealand vs Australia
01:42 USA vs Scotland