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Rugby | Sevens

Seabelo Senatla © Getty Images

Kiwis spoil Cape Town party



New Zealand produced a shock in the first semifinal of the Cape Town Sevens by knocking out the Blitzboks with a 19-12 win that was clinched by a Joe Webber try two minutes from time.

The two teams were level pegging for most of the way. The Blitzboks drew first blood as a great attacking sweep which initially made inroads into New Zealand territory down the left flank was switched to the right for skipper Philip Snyman to score halfway between the posts and the corner flag.

Branco du Preez missed the conversion which meant that when the Kiwis hit straight back with a good try to Tim Mikkelson off a little switch beneath the Blitzbok posts the conversion, taken by Mikkelson himself, put the All Blacks into a 7-5 lead.

What the Blitzboks would not have enjoyed about that try was that it came while their opponents were down to six men because of a yellow card.

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The Blitzboks did go back onto the attack after that but unlike the Kiwis they tended to make heavy weather of their offensive play.

The Bok pressure did pay off though when Cecil Afrika went over off a tap penalty near the All Black line on the stroke of halftime to make it 12-7.

The Blitzboks were perhaps guilty of producing too many soft moments in this tournament and the ease with which Vilimoni Korai was able to use his explosiveness to beat the first line of defenders and then run two thirds of the length of the field was one of those. The conversion was missed but the try brought the scores level at 12-all.

The New Zealand winner was then hatched by a strong surge down the right flank from inside their 22 and with the Blitzbok defence at sixes and sevens they were unable to prevent Webber crossing from the inside pass and he was able to get near enough to the posts to make it a seven point game.

The Bok chances of making up that deficit were stymied by a combination of their own errors and strong New Zealand defence and in the end the Kiwis were deserved winners and they advance to a meeting with Argentina in the decider.

The Pumas overcame one of the surprise packages of the tournament, Canada, in a close semifinal that ended with the South Americans pinned in their own territory but able to hold on for a 14-12 win.

The host nation might not even have got as far as the semifinal had not Seabelo Senatla made up for an early costly mistake by scoring the try that enabled the Blitzboks to recover from the despair of being behind by 16 points at one stage to sneak a 31-26 win over Fiji in their quarterfinal.

IN TROUBLE

It was indeed a tough day for the Boks in terms of the opponents they had to face if they wanted to reach the final.

There was a nervousness among many of the South African fans and even some people close to the Blitzbok camp when it was learned on Saturday night that Fiji would be the Blitzboks' opponents at this early stage of the final day of the second leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series.

Fiji weren’t particularly flush on the first day and the reason they played the Series champions at this point was because they were edged into second in their pool by Canada.

However, the problem with Fiji if you are about to face them in the abbreviated rugby code, is that you never know which Fiji team is going to pitch.

The Fiji team that did pitch was a far closer approximation of the team that won the Olympics than the one that played in Dubai and on Saturday.

That means they were strong in carrying the ball into the tackle and once they got momentum the Boks found it difficult to stop them.

At least in the first half, when the hosts were always chasing the game after Senatla was sin-binned for grabbing Waisea Nacuqu around the head as the Fijian dived for the line in the right corner.

The referee rightly awarded a penalty try to Fiji and with Senatla going off to reduce the Bok contingent to six for two minutes, the Fijians capitalised by scoring a try after an excellent counter-ruck had turned the Blitzboks ball over inside the Fijian half.

That made it 14-0 after just two minutes of play and the South Africans were in big trouble.

But there is a reason why they are regarded as the best Sevens team on the planet at the moment, and Werner Kok showed why a few seasons back he was regarded as the best Sevens player when he blitzed down the left touchline to score after Kwagga Smith had created the modicum of space he needed by drawing defenders in on the right.

Smith was probably the outstanding player on the field for the Blitzboks and was to score an excellent try in the second half, but that was not before the Fijians had taken a 21-15 lead when Senatla was easily shrugged off by Kailione Nasoko, who ran more than 35 metres to score the try after breaking a tackle that really should have been completed.

At that stage there might have been many wondering why Senatla has such a high rating as a Sevens player, and the same with the Boks as a Sevens team.

But Philip Snyman’s men capitalised on a penalty against the Fijians by scoring a try on the stroke of halftime. Smith made the breakout from inside his own half and Justin Geduld completed the score. Branco du Preez’s conversion meant that the Boks were just about back in the game at halftime (12-21).

They had to be the first to score in the second half and they were as Senatla started making amends for his first-half mistakes by going in at the left corner off a long pass from a tap penalty.

The Fijians quickly struck back though with another of those strong runs through a Bok defensive system that again looked ineffectual in the one on one situation against the powerfully built islanders.

That was the cue for Smith to use his pace and ability to take the gap to score the try that brought the Blitzboks back to within two points of Fiji with just two minutes left on the clock.

The winning score might be perceived as controversial as the ball appeared to go forward off a Blitzbok player before Senatla was up to kick ahead and score off a move that broke down deep inside the Fijian half.

There was some momentary confusion at the restart after that try as the Fijians had eight players on the field but order was restored and with just 12 seconds left at the restart it meant that when the Fijians knocked on in playing a kick-off that didn’t go 10 metres the game was over and a very relieved Blitzbok team was able to celebrate a narrow escape.

It could be said that not only did Senatla’s late try save the Blitzboks, it also saved the tournament from going into anti-climax mode early in the afternoon session.

Blitzbok v Fiji scores

Blitzboks 31 – Tries: Werner Kok, Justin Geduld, Seabelo Senatla 2 and Kwagga Smith; Conversions: Branco du Preez 2 and Justin Geduld.

Fiji 26 – Tries: Waisea Nacuqu, Kailione Nasoko and Josua Vukurunabili; Penalty try; Conversions: Waisea Nacuqu 2.

Blitzbok v New Zealand scores

New Zealand 19 – Tries: Tim Mikkleson, Vilimoni Korai and Joe Webber; Conversions: Tim Mikkleson. South Africa 12 – Tries: Philip Snyman and Cecil Afrika; Conversion: Branco du Preez.



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