Seabelo Senatla gave the Blitzboks a sniff with a last-minute try, taking the score to 19-14 and the last play of the game. But Cecil Afrika’s kickoff just sailed too far and straight into touch to hand the Canada Sevens title to New Zealand on Monday morning South African time.
Kyle Brown and his team started well enough, even though it took all of five minutes for the first points to come on to the board in the final at the BC Place Stadium in Vancouver.
After an initial bit of shadow boxing, the highly impressive Justin Geduld – arguably South Africa’s best player on day two in Vancouver – quickly chipped a penalty ahead from the halfway line to catch out the flat-lying New Zealand defence.
The eager Rosko Specman realised what the plan was and hared after the ball – actually getting there ahead of the cover defence, with the TMO ruling that he had managed to get the ball down in a scuffle on the line with Kurt Baker and Sherwin Stowers.
But the Kiwis responded with a double blow within two minutes to knock the stuffing out of the Blitzbok effort. Star All Black 15s flank Liam Messam sparked his team’s opening try as he sized up Chris Dry and skipped to the left to draw Brown and release Man-of-the-Match Sam Dickson to dive into the corner.
Disaster was to follow for the South Africans as they misjudged the next kickoff, and Dickson plucked it out of the air ahead of Geduld and had the wherewithal to throw an unbelievable offload inside for Baker to fly on to, and just like that, New Zealand were 14-7 ahead.
Senatla wasn’t going to leave it there, and showed great determination in breaking a tackle and finding Kwagga Smith on the outside. The Lions loose forward raced down the left flank, but was hauled down by Gillies Kaka a few metres from the line, and the Kiwis won the breakdown penalty.
New Zealand had survived a bullet, and it was arguably the turning point of the game. From there, the Kiwis controlled possession and looked the more likely to score for most of the second 10-minute half.
Dylan Sage got close to the line for the Blitzboks, but he was isolated about five metres away and veteran DJ Forbes got back to win the penalty on the ground.
Then the game-changing, and title-winning moment came, and what a fitting passage of play was it not. In the age-old traditions of New Zealand rugby, they constructed a try “by hand” – working their way from deep inside their 22, and putting phase after phase together as they crept their way up the field.
It took over three minutes of unrelenting phase-play – with the odd penalty in between at the breakdowns – but it was essentially still the same move, even though one of the penalties was also kicked into touch.
The New Zealanders never relinquished possession as they swept upfield, and it was captain Tim Mikkelson who delivered the final pass to Lewis Ormond, who dived over in the right-hand corner to put his team 19-7 ahead with about 90 seconds to go.
A remarkable statistic popped up on the TV at that point, showing that the Kiwis had completed 43 passes compared to just seven from the South Africans. That proved that there had been very little cohesion in the Blitzboks’ play.
But then came Senatla’s own magical moment as he burst through a few tackles to score under the posts for his 43rd try of the season, and Branco du Preez quickly put over the conversion to make it 19-14 with two seconds left.
It had to be a kickoff that the Blitzboks could get under, but Afrika – of all people – drop-kicked it too hard, and New Zealand put the subsequent free kick into touch to claim the title.
The result meant that the South Africans also missed out on top spot on the World Series log, as they picked up 19 points instead of 22. Fiji lost the third-place playoff 19-12 to Australia and gained just 15 log points, but still retained the No 1 position with 106, followed by South Africa on 105 and New Zealand on 104.
Some consolation for the Blitzboks was that Smith and Geduld was picked for the “Dream Team” of the tournament, but it was scant reward for an otherwise excellent two days for the South Africans in Vancouver.
“New Zealand played a good tactical game and our guys will learn from this experience. It was disappointing to lose, but I am pleased with the way we played over the entire weekend,” Powell said afterwards.
“We said wanted to start from over on Sunday morning and I am very satisfied with our wins over Wales (31-0 in quarter-final) and Fiji (31-19 in semi-final). We also continue to give the squad members good playing opportunities as we build towards the Olympics in Brazil.”
South Africa – Tries: Rosko Specman, Seabelo Senatla. Conversions: Justin Geduld (1), Branco du Preez (1).
New Zealand – Tries: Sam Dickson, Kurt Baker, Lewis Ormond. Conversions: Gillies Kaka (2).
Canada Sevens Dream Team
Jasa Veremalua (Fiji), Tim Mikkelson (New Zealand), Kwagga Smith (South Africa), Phoenix Hunapo-Nofoa (Samoa), Kitione Taliga (Fiji), Martin Iosefo (USA), Justin Geduld (South Africa).
1 Fiji 106
2 South Africa 105
3 New Zealand 104
4 Australia 90
5 USA 76
Original source: Spirited Blitzboks ran out of steam