A mistake-riddled performance in the 14-12 defeat to Kenya in the second game of the day was preceded by a laboured 26-5 win over Zimbabwe, which meant that the Blitzbokke went into the last Pool B game against England needing a win to reach the Cup quarter-finals at a chilly Cape Town Stadium.
But backed by a near-capacity 50 000-strong crowd against England, captain Kyle Brown and his team rolled up their sleeves and cut out the errors that had marred their previous games to come away with a dramatic two-tries-to-nil victory.
There was much more zip and tenacity in the Blitzbokke’s play, with assured passing and good decision-making leading to excellent ball retention. They also displayed greater physicality at the breakdowns, which was one of the areas mentioned in the build-up that needed to be worked on from the Dubai tournament last week, where the South Africans crashed out in the Cup quarter-finals to USA and won the Plate competition.
The defence was also improved, with skipper Brown and tall forward Chris Dry getting stuck into the bigger English front-men.
But the attacking play was considerably sharper too, and two tries scored was testament to that after lacklustre outings earlier in the day.
Juan de Jongh gave the Blitzbokke some breathing space with an outstanding individual try as he danced through the English defence with a typical sway of the hips and quick feet to step past a few tacklers to dot down near the posts. Even though Justin Geduld missed a relatively easy conversion, the South Africans were 5-0 ahead and England were a man down after Phil Burgess was yellow-carded for taking out Rosko Specman off the ball.
The Blitzbokke prevented a near-certain English try just before halftime when speedster Dan Norton streaked down the left touchline, but Seabelo Senatla stood his ground and pulled off a strong tackle to maintain South Africa’s 5-0 lead at halftime.
Cheslin Kolbe, who was surprisingly benched by coach Neil Powell, came on after halftime and brought even more energy to the Blitzbokke attack.
And when there didn’t seem to be an opening in the English defence as the South Africans camped inside their 22, Kolbe produced a mesmerising sequence of stepping, jinks and dummies to get to within five metres of the tryline after thrilling interplay between Kwagga Smith and Francois Hougaard.
The ball was recycled and Geduld found Rayno Benjamin, who coasted in for the winning try.
Powell will have some tough selection calls to make for the Australian game on Sunday afternoon (12.27pm kickoff), but at least he can go to bed on Saturday night satisfied that his team handled the pressure of playing at home and having to win to qualify for the Cup quarter-finals.
Springbok Sevens – Tries: Juan de Jongh, Rayno Benjamin.
Cup quarter-final line-up (Sunday)
Fiji v France (12.04pm), South Africa v Australia (12.26pm), New Zealand v Argentina (12.48pm), Kenya v USA (1.10pm).
DAY ONE RESULTS:
USA 26 Wales 19, Australia 45 Portugal 0, Fiji 34 Scotland 19, Argentina 33 Russia 5, New Zealand 19 France 14, Samoa 24 Canada 10, Kenya 19 England 19, South Africa 26 Zimbabwe 5, USA 52 Portugal 7, Australia 21 Wales 14, Fiji 52 Russia 0, Argentina 19 Scotland 14, New Zealand 12 Canada 24, Samoa 19 France 22, England 43 Zimbabwe 0, South Africa 12 Kenya 14, Wales 40 Portugal 5, USA 21 Australia 26, Scotland 33 Russia 10, Fiji 43 Argentina 0, France 26 Canada 26, New Zealand 19 Samoa 10, Kenya 36 Zimbabwe 0, South Africa 10 England 0.
Original source: Blitzbokke qualify for quarters