Cape Town Sevens: New Zealand survive South Africa as late drama seals quarter-finals spot; Fiji, Australia, USA shine
- All Blacks Sevens snatch victory from brink of defeat against Blitzboks
- Kiwis were in danger of missing Cup quarter-finals for first time ever
New Zealand were staring down the barrel of a historic defeat at the South Africa Sevens on Saturday. But true to form, the world champions pulled off a dramatic escape in an enthralling pool A win over the Blitzboks to cap off a dramatic day one in Cape Town.
The All Blacks Sevens swatted aside Zimbabwe 35-0 in their opening game, only to be stunned 21-17 by Samoa. That meant they needed to beat South Africa to avoid missing out on the Cup quarter-finals for the first time in HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series history.
With a depleted squad after their Dubai Sevens victory last weekend, New Zealand twice fell behind to the hosts – themselves looking to make up for missing the quarter-finals in Dubai – at a fevered Cape Town Stadium.
They were 21-14 down heading into the final minute after Branco Du Preez came off the bench to score for South Africa.
But a converted try from captain Sione Molia levelled things up seconds before the hooter. There was just enough time for another play, and Vilimoni Kiroi silenced the crowd when he dived over in the left corner to make it 26-21.
“It was a tough old game out there, big crowd, awesome atmosphere and we did well to come back,” New Zealand’s Dylan Collier told World Rugby Sevens.
“From last week we knew we had to lift our game. Playing South Africa in front of this crowd was awesome.
“It’s about staying composed and not panicking, we knew what we wanted to do, we had to make sure we went out there and looked after the ball. It just opened up for us at the end and we scored in the corner.
“We had an awesome effort the last tournament and we just had to bring that through to this week. We have to make sure we’re confident going into tomorrow.”
It was a tough defeat for South Africa, who had earlier lived up to their name by blitzing Zimbabwe 43-0 – Siviwe Soyizwapi scoring a hat-trick – and having beaten Samoa 22-12.
“The team is very disappointed, we controlled the game in the first half, two crucial tries but we have to look at our game and be better tomorrow,” said Werner Kok, whose converted score levelled it up at 14-14 before the late drama.
“It comes down to inches, you can be bitterly disappointed. You have to go find those inches, and come back with a new vibe.
“We’ve improved on last weekend, we were definitely better. We’re still through to the quarter-finals. Tomorrow is another day and another opportunity.”
New Zealand now have a tough task in the last eight against Australia, who topped pool D thanks to a 26-14 win over Scotland, with Maurice Longbottom scoring a double.
Just like in Dubai, Australia made it three wins from three at the pool stage, and Scotland had to settle for second place and a tie against South Africa. The All Blacks Sevens’ late dramatics mean Dubai Challenge Trophy winners Samoa drop into the lower competition again, despite Tila Mealoi’s last-minute try sealing a 21-17 win against the Commonwealth Games gold medallists.
“We set out to get three from three,” Australia’s Lewis Holland said. “We spoke about controlling our ball. When we have it in defence, stay connected and with our line speed and pressure we can get a few turnovers.
“There were still a flew little glitches there we need to tighten up tomorrow. The first game can always be a little rusty, you can have an awesome warm up and be a little off.
“Wales played really well, we knew we had to keep building. The second game we started quick. Scotland we knew would be tough.
“Day two is a new day, we just need to put day one to bed. It doesn’t mean anything. Day two is about what you can control in-house. We’re not gonna go home and change up our game plan. Control the controllables, and go and have fun.”
Fiji held off a late fightback from England to make it three wins from three on day one.
The Olympic champions held on to win 21-19 after late tries from Will Muir and Alex Davis threatened an upset. Fiji will now face surprise package Spain in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
“England always is a good side, and the way they play is tough, so we needed to push hard,” Fiji captain Kalione Nasoko told World Rugby Sevens.
“They came back in the second half, so well done to the boys. I think we are not done yet, there is always room for improvements.
“We will go back and focus on the recovery and we will look at the mistakes and get ready to go again tomorrow. Vinaka.”
For England it’s a quarter-final against the USA, after beating Kenya 29-12 and France 26-12, as they look to follow up their bronze medal last weekend.
“It was a bit frustrating to be honest against a strong Fijian team, we didn’t start very well at all,” said England’s Dan Norton, who scored a brilliant hat-trick try against Kenya.
“We have positives for tomorrow with the way we finished the game, hopefully we can edge towards the second half more than the first half.
“Overall a good day one but frustrating the result of that last game. It was a nice start with the first two games, but the third game will eat away at us a little bit.
“There’s a lot to play for. We’ll just review the day, see where we can be a bit stronger. It’s more the mental side, a little more on our individual errors, get better on the mental parts.”
France finished up third in Pool D after getting their first win of the tournament by beating winless Kenya 19-12.
Spain pulled off an early upset by beating Argentina 35-12 and pushing Dubai finalists the USA before losing 38-17. They finished by running in eight tries in a 52-0 win over pool B whipping boys Japan.
For the USA it was business as usual, showing some fight to respond to going behind in the second half and beat Argentina 31-14, making it three wins. Mike Friday’s men crushed Japan 54-0 in their first game.
Argentina missed out on the Cup quarter-finals, with Spain taking the second spot. Argentina face Kenya in the Challenge Trophy quarter-finals.
“We got the job done, that was the goal for day one,” USA’s Folau Niua told World Rugby. “Hopefully we’ll bring the energy back. We kept the ball well and dominated kick-off and receiving.
“If we can play our game and focus on that I think we’ll be fine. England is a good team, but if you want to go to the semis and Cup final you gotta go through them.
“Last week I think we did well, but that’s over, that’s done. We left that over there in Dubai. It was a good start for us because last year we didn’t win any game in Dubai. But this is a whole different tournament.”