South Africa produced an excellent tactical display to beat favourites Fiji 24-14 to win the Emirates Airline London Sevens title on Sunday evening before a crowd of more than 50 000 fans at Twickenham.
Fiji, with a revamped squad and new coaching staff, swept aside new HSBC Sevens World Series champions New Zealand 42-19 in the semi-finals and also beat the Springbok Sevens on Saturday evening in their last group match.
The Cup final was however a different story altogether. Fiji raced into a two-try lead from the start, but South Africa stuck to their game plan to frustrate their bigger opponents around the fringes, denying them open space from where they are so dangerous.
It was South Africa’s third Cup final appearance in their last four tournaments and their second Cup win of the season after they also captured the USA title in Las Vegas. Their London success moved them one position up the Series leader board to third, with 116 points.
New Zealand (150 points) was crowned Series champions after England (121) failed to make the play-offs.
Fiji made a sensational start when they scored a brilliant try from their own try line with Watisoni Votu scoring under the posts after several sublime offloads. Minutes later, Fiji doubled their lead when Livai Ikanikoda scored from what appeared an offside position.
Tries from Boom Prinsloo and Bernado Botha brought South Africa within touching distance of Fiji. Botha then scored a very good constructed try to give South Africa the lead at 17-14. Steven Hunt scored South Africa’s fourth try after the team decided to drive at the Fijian line.
A delighted Paul Treu, the SA Sevens coach, praised the decision-making of his team:
“We never panicked when we fell behind and I’m proud that we stuck to our game plan. We knew we had to frustrate Fiji, to deny them space and to make them work for the ball. They are their best when counter-attacking and we could not afford to give them any space at all.
“You cannot play them on the touchlines, because if you do that you chase them all day long. Our physical strength at the breakdown was the deciding factor and the guys showed great courage and character. We still have one more tournament to go in Scotland and our job is by no means over,” said Treu.
Kyle Brown, Springbok Sevens captain, said their tactics were spot on: “This was a huge effort and the guys showed character and belief, especially after we made two mistakes early on which allowed them to score. We managed to pull ourselves together and knew that we had the courage and determination to succeed. You just cannot give those guys space to move and, thankfully, we managed to get our first-time tackling spot on, which proved vital in the end,” said Brown.
South Africa was made to work hard for their place in the final against Wales, managing a narrow 21-19 victory against the 2009 Sevens World Cup winners. They led 14-0 at the break thanks to tries from Boom Prinsloo and Bernado Botha.
Wales hit back after the restart with tries from Jevon Groves and Alex Cuthbert. Prinsloo then scored the crucial third try for the Springbok Sevens, who were made to fight all the way for their victory after Kristian Phillips scored in the corner for Wales.
A brace from Afrika and another try from Botha secured a 17-0 victory for the Springbok Sevens in their quarterfinal match against Australia.