Blitzboks lose ground in New Zealand
South Africans finish a distant fourth after Fiji take the title by beating the US
Blitzbok coach Neil Powell conceded that his team had been outmuscled at times during the first two legs of the HSBC World Sevens Series and after round three they appear no nearer to finding a solution.
The Blitzboks ended fourth in Hamilton‚ the New Zealand leg of the 10-tournament series‚ but lost ground to eventual winners Fiji‚ runners-up the US and New Zealand, who finished third.
The US and Fiji now head the standings with 57 points‚ New Zealand are third with 54 points and SA are a distant fourth on 44 points.
The top four teams automatically qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Blitzboks lost 29-7 to Fiji in the semifinals and by the same scoreline in the third/fourth playoff against New Zealand‚ and both times SA struggled at the breakdown and in contact.
Powell‚ who is rebuilding the team that won the last two World Series‚ admitted last week that he might have underestimated the task initially‚ but he can be under no illusions now.
Despite having speed and skill‚ the Blitzboks have not been able to cope with pressure in contact while their defensive system is also struggling with so many new players.
Several times they were caught out in wide channels because of poor communication in the defensive line.
Fixing defensive patterns and understanding will come with more time‚ but finding a way to compete physically with the likes of Fiji‚ New Zealand and the US is not as straightforward.
Powell’s team doesn’t have imposing players and it seems teams have decided that engaging SA in contact is the best way to upset them.
After beating Samoa 28-19 in the quarterfinals‚ the Blitzboks were forced into errors in their next two matches.
“We had a day of missed chances and silly errors and that cost us dearly‚” Powell said. “I don’t think Fiji and New Zealand are 22 points better than us‚ in fact‚ I feel we are pretty close to them‚ but the scores show how many mistakes we made.
“We conceded yellow cards in both matches and in each‚ the opponents scored twice while we were a man down. We also did not look after our possession like we should. Against teams such as these you cannot defend 80% of the time and only attack 20% and expect a result.”
The Blitzboks came from behind against Samoa‚ who scored twice in the first half of that match to lead 12-7 at the break.
“We played very well in the second half against the Samoans‚” said Powell. “They targeted the breakdown in the first half and once we could retain some possession in the second‚ we controlled the game and won quite comfortably in the end. Maybe the easier games on Saturday did not do us any favours.”
Against Fiji an early try by the men in white set the tone and they were leading 19-0 at the break and 24-0 just after.
Blitzboks captain Philip Snyman lamented on the missed chances against Fiji.
“We had some early opportunities and did not take it‚” said Snyman. “Then we made a number of small errors and were punished. The fact is‚ we were not good enough on the day and we have no excuses. We need to learn from this and make sure we don’t make them again.”
Snyman and Powell are both confident that next week’s tournament in Sydney will see a better result for the team. SA will face Australia‚ Argentina and Tonga in a tough Pool D.
“We have a week to fix things — small tweaks are needed and knowing this team‚ they have the character to find something extra when the chips are down‚” said Snyman.
“It is not going to happen overnight but a week in Sydney will give us time to work on that. We need to ask ourselves honest questions and have a clear vision of what we want to achieve next weekend.”
Powell also reflected on some positives: “Our squad came through the tournament unscathed and some of the other teams were not that lucky. We will have a good review of our performances and matches and take it from there.
“We are always looking for consistency and finishing in the top four is one of those boxes we want to tick. That was achieved and it was pleasing‚ but we will be looking for an improved effort in Sydney again.”