It was a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the South Africans from the Rio Olympics, where they ended third, and even last season’s World Series, where they finished behind Fiji for the overall title.
The Springbok Sevens were knocked out at the quarter-final stage of last year’s Dubai tournament, but not even the normally powerful Fijians could match the tremendous hunger and tenacity shown by the South Africans.
Apart from taking their chances on attack, and cutting out those errors that marred their campaign last season, their defence stood strong to deny the Fijians room to manoeuvre with ball-in-hand.
The Blitzboks struck almost immediately when Fiji couldn’t control the kickoff, and Kyle Brown secured possession before Seabelo Senatla weaved his way past a few defenders. Senatla nearly scored, but had the patience to turn around and offload to Cecil Afrika for the first try.
Branco du Preez followed it with a brilliant solo try by scything past two defenders to set up a 14-0 lead, but the game was far from over.
Fiji hit back before the break when Jasa Veremalua burst away to put captain Osea Kolinisau over, and with the first move of the second half, Jerry Tuwai levelled the scores.
But Man of the Match Chris Dry, who had produced a number of huge tackles up to that point, was put in space and strode down the right touch-line to extend the Blitzboks’ lead to 21-14, and the result was settled when Rosko Specman hacked ahead for Senatla to grab his 11th try of the weekend to be awarded the Player of the Tournament award.
“I’m very stoked for the guys, especially from the first game. We knew it wasn’t our best, but we kept on climbing those hurdles. Towards the final, we were getting into our stride. But all hats off to Fiji, they’re a quality side, and I think today the ball just bounced in our favour,” Snyman said.
“(Starting well) That’s what they normally do to us and then they control the game. That’s what we wanted to do, to control the intensity. We scored a couple of early tries and got the points on the board, and we never felt that we were behind. So we didn’t chase the game and I think they started to chase the game at one point, which worked in our favour.”
The party will go on long into the night in Dubai, and South Africans will hope that it can continue next weekend at the Cape Town Sevens. “Hats off to the guys. It’s (Dubai) a very special tournament, and now going into our home tournament in Cape Town. We had a lot of support here and it almost felt like a home tournament for us. We need to start over again for Cape Town and see what kind of pool we are in,” a smiling Snyman said.
South Africa – Tries: Cecil Afrika, Branco du Preez, Chris Dry, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Du Preez (3).
Fiji – Tries: Osea Kolinisau, Jerry Tuwai. Conversions: Kolinisau (2).
Original source: Blitzbokke 'climb hurdles' to win Dubai Sevens