South Africa were knocked out in the Cup quarterfinal for the sixth consecutive time this season at the Hong Kong Sevens on Sunday.
What has happened to the South African sevens side? They were the in-form team last year and topped the World Series log from the opening Dubai leg. Now they find themselves out of the title race with two tournaments in England and Scotland remaining.
Paul Treu has suffered injuries to players like Paul Delport and lost a few experienced players to Super Rugby, like Robert Ebersohn, Gio Aplon and Lionel Mapoe, but majority of the 2009 champion squad is still there. Guys like Kyle Brown, Mzwandile Stick, Mpho Mbiyozo, Chase Minnaar, Ryno Benjamin and Franki Horne. Other players, like MJ Mentz and Cecil Afrika, have been in the setup before, so they know the stuctures and have the experience too.
Surely Treu could have find worthy replacements to fill in? Yet the head coach has called on youngsters like Chris Dry, Branco du Preez, Sampie Mastriet and Hoffman Maritz. They have injected some freshness in attack, but poor handling and weak defence has seen the team fail to replicate their 2009 form this year.
Now they only have one Plate title to their name and haven’t progressed past the Cup quarterfinals once this season. The results would have been understandable if Treu pointed out that this was a rebuilding phase, but he made it clear in an interview with SA Rugby magazine earlier this year that he had a strong enough squad to defend their World Series championship. Six unsuccessful tournaments later, it is clear that he didn’t.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, the Blitzboks looked impressive on day one and two with convincing victories over Zimbabwe, Korea and Kenya. But they were eliminated when they faced arch-nemisis Fiji in the Cup quaterfinals, losing 14-12.
Fiji led 14-5 at the break and fended off a late surge from South Africa. The latter managed to keep Fiji scoreless in the second half but one try from the defending champions was not enough for victory.
This saw South Africa face Kenya in the Plate semi-final. It was 7-all at the break as both teams scored a try a piece.
Du Preez edged South Africa ahead but the Kenyans levelled the scores again late in the second half. But the Blitzboks eventually grabbed the 19-12 win with a 16th-minute try through Mbiyozo.
They met Australia in the Plate final, and the defending champions were favourites as the more experienced side. But the young Australian team capitalised on a poor all-round performance from South Africa as they won 12-5.
The Blitzboks failed to convert their scoring opportunities because of poor handling. Mastriet scored the consolation try.
In other results, Samoa and New Zealand faced off in the final as they beat England 28-24 and Fiji 33-28 respectively.
Samoa went on to record an impressive win as they came back from 14-0 down to beat New Zealand 24-21.
Hong Kong Sevens results, day three:
Cup quarterfinal: Kenya 12 – 21 New Zealand
Cup quarterfinal: Fiji 14 – 12 South Africa
Cup quarterfinal: England 26 – 19 Australia
Cup quarterfinal: Samoa 24 – 7 United States
Bowl quarterfinal: Portugal 17 – 7 France
Bowl quarterfinal: Canada 26 – 0 Tonga
Bowl quarterfinal: Scotland 12 – 10 Japan
Bowl quarterfinal: Argentina 12 – 17 Wales
Shield quarterfinal: Chinese Tapei 12 – 45 Italy
Shield quarterfinal: Hong Kong 31 – 14 Korea
Shield quarterfinal: China 17 – 31 Russia
Shield quarterfinal: Zimbabwe 43 – 12 Thailand
Shield semi-final: Zimbabwe 14 – 17 Russia
Shield semi-final: Hong Kong 26 – 19 Italy
Bowl semi-final: Wales 26 – 7 Scotland
Bowl semi-final: Canada 26 – 24 Portugal
Plate semi-final: United States 12 – 21 Australia
Plate semi-final: South Africa 19 – 12 Kenya
Cup semi-final: Samoa 28 – 24 England
Cup semi-final: Fiji 28 – 33 New Zealand
Shield Final: Hong Kong 19 – 17 Russia
Bowl Final: Wales 19 – 35 Canada
Plate Final: South Africa 5 – 12 Australia
Cup Final: Samoa 24 – 21 New Zealand
For all results click here
By Gareth Duncan