Dylan Sage
Dylan Sage

Despite their third-place finish in Vancouver on Sunday — the sixth leg of the 2017-18 HSBC World Sevens Series — the Blitzboks are clinging to the top of the overall standings.

Olympic champions Fiji have closed the gap to eight points with four rounds of the series to play after winning in Vancouver‚ but Neil Powell’s team proved their fighting qualities.

The Blitzboks were ousted by Fiji (15-12) in the Vancouver semis but rallied to thrash the US — winners in Las Vegas the previous week — 29-7 to take the bronze medal.

SA were fourth in Vegas.

Though Powell had set the target of reaching the finals in both Las Vegas and Vancouver‚ it was always a lofty ambition considering his side went to North America without six seasoned veterans.

They also lost the experienced Werner Kok on day one in Nevada and Ruhan Nel on the first day in British Columbia and were forced to blood several youngsters in the past fortnight.

The fact that they reached the semis both weekends was a sign that there is depth in the SA Sevens programme and there is also confidence within the squad despite all the setbacks.

In Vancouver the Blitzboks beat Russia (38-7) and Scotland (21-0) in pool play to secure a quarterfinal berth.

They lost their final pool match 33-14 against New Zealand‚ which meant a last-eight clash against Australia.

The Wallabies ran into a 19-0 lead at halftime and the game looked up for the Blitzboks. But in what might become the defining game of the campaign for a team of youngsters‚ the Blitzboks rallied with four tries and a master-class in suffocating pressure to win 24-19.

Dylan Sage scored the winning try two-and-a-half minutes after the final hooter sounded. It was a lesson in composure and belief in the team’s strategy.

Losing to Fiji by a narrow margin was tough but again the Blitzboks picked themselves up to ensure they did not lose too much ground to their major title rivals by finishing third. Fiji beat Kenya 31-12 to take the title.

SA have 109 points‚ Fiji 101‚ New Zealand 92 and Australia 84. The remaining tournaments are in Hong Kong‚ Singapore‚ London and Paris.

"We have very high standards and there were times when we did not achieve that‚" Powell said. "We did play well at times and the comeback against Australia was very pleasing. The guys kept their composure."

Powell was forced to face Fiji without Nel‚ who was ruled out through injury‚ with replacement Marco Labuschagne coming into the team.

"Against Fiji, we had the opportunity to beat them‚ but did not‚ so that is something we need to get better at.

"Against teams like that‚ you get that one chance and you must use it.

"Against the US‚ it was the ideal opportunity to give the younger guys a chance and they responded very well. There were mistakes made‚ but that is how you learn and I was impressed by their efforts."

Sage had a very strong tournament‚ not only scoring the most tries (four) but also making the most tackles. Sage (18)‚ Branco du Preez (17) and Cecil Afrika (16) were the leading defenders. Overall‚ SA made the most tackles at the tournament (136).