Treu rues missed chances
Port Elizabeth - Springbok Sevens coach Paul Treu blamed missed opportunities in a see-sawing final as South Africa’s hopes of claiming victory in the inaugural Nelson Mandela Bay South African Sevens tournament were cruelly dashed with a try on the final siren by New Zealand.
New Zealand overturned a two-point deficit to win the title 31-26, with Toby Arnold pouncing on a downfield hack. He then gave the ball to team-mate Tomasi Cama who scored his 100th IRB Sevens try.
“Finals are about taking opportunities and they took theirs and we missed ours,” said Treu. “Hopefully we have learned valuable lessons such as we should have kept the ball in hand when there was only a minute or a minute and 15 to go. But it’s experiences like this that the players will learn from.
“We set our goal on reaching the final and we played well to do that and there were positives to take form this into the next tournament in the New Year. We’re just three points behind the Series leaders and the title is won in May not December, so there’s time to work on things.”
It was a nail-biting end to a thrilling final in which the lead changed hands five times before New Zealand became the third different winner in the third tournament of the HSBC Sevens World Series this season.
The 19 points the Blitzbokke took as runners up allowed them to close the gap on the series leaders to just three points. They are on 48 points, just behind joint leaders Fiji and New Zealand who are on 51.
New Zealand scored first after 80 seconds when Cecil Afrika spilled the ball on the halfway line as he attempted to pass out of the tackle. From the opportunity DJ Forbes crossed from close range.
Two minutes later South Africa levelled when Bernado Botha went over in the left hand corner with Branco du Preez converting from close to the touchline to level the score, 7-7.
New Zealand claimed a second while the Blitzbokke were down to six men after Boom Prinsloo was yellow carded for entering a tackle from the wrong side. In his absence New Zealand built pressure on the South African line and when the ball squirted out of the side of a ruck Cama was on hand to pick up and score from close in.
Botha then popped up in the right hand corner to score his second and with Du Preez converting South Africa took the lead for the first time, 14-12. That lead looked certain to be extended on the half-time siren when Prinsloo hurtled down the short side of a ruck from 20 metres out. But the forward spilled the ball in the tackle just centimetres from the line and Frank Halai was eventually freed to gallop much the length of the field to put New Zealand into a 17-14 lead at the break.
The Blitzbokke grabbed that back when Steven Hunt scored two minutes after the restart and South Africa seemed to have taken control when they turned over the ball from the restart and Afrika danced in from close range with Du Preez converting to make it 26-17 with five-and-a-half minutes remaining.
However, a breakout try from Halai, after great defensive pressure by the Blitzbokke looked set to turnover the ball, closed the gap to two points before Cama’s heartbreaker from a similar turnover completed New Zealand’s comeback.
South Africa had conceded only three tries in their five match march to the final; racking up 104 points to nil on day one with victories over Canada (33-0), Kenya (45-0) and Australia (26-0).
Day Two’s opponents provided more resistance with France briefly threatening a repeat of their upset win in Dubai’s quarter-finals when they took a 5-0 lead before eventually succumbing 26-12. That set up a semi-final against the hard tackling Samoans who made the Blitzbokke work hard for a 12-0 lead before scoring a consolation try for themselves after the siren sounded as the home team sailed into the final with a 12-7 win.
Samoa finished third in the tournament after beating England, 17-14, in the bronze medal match. Wales beat Fiji remarkably easily, 48-0 to take the Plate; Scotland overcame Canada, 22-19 in the Bowl final and Zimbabwe won the all-African Shield final with a 19-12 victory over Kenya.
Treu thanked the supporters who backed the team during the week and over the two days. “We wanted to give them a win in the first tournament but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
“But it’s been a great week and this tournament has the potential to be the best in the world.”
The Series now goes into the New Year break and resumes again with the Wellington Sevens in New Zealand on February 3.
South Africa - Tries: Bernardo Botha (2), Steven Hunt, Cecil Afrika. Conversions: Branco du Preez (3)
New Zealand - Tries: DJ Forbes, Tomasi Cama (2), Frank Halai (2). Conversions: Cama (3).