12 December 2011
Two tries, one at the end of the first half and one right at the end of the game, proved to be the difference as New Zealand edged South Africa 31-26 in the final of the Port Elizabeth Sevens on Saturday.
Coach Peul Treu’s charges had their chances to win, and they could have won handsomely had they taken them, but credit New Zealand for playing until the final whistle and scoring the winning points with less than five seconds left in the contest.
“Finals are about taking opportunities and they took theirs and we missed ours,” Treu told the SA Rugby Union website.
“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.
Treu added: “We set our goal on reaching the final, and we played well to do that, and there were positives to take from 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.”
After a quiet start on Friday to the first HSBC Sevens World Series event to be hosted by Port Elizabeth, the event caught alight on Saturday as rugby supporters came out in their thousands turning the occasion into what the organisers had been billing it as: “rugby’s biggest party”.
The Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, one of the stadiums built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, provided a fantastic backdrop for a tournament and it almost gave the fans what they wanted: a title winning performance from the home team.
On Friday, the most impressive teams on show were the two that went on to make the final. It was a fast and welcome turnaround in fortune for the Blitsbokke and New Zealand after both teams underachieved in Dubai a week earlier.
After winning all their matches on the opening day in Dubai, including a win over the All Blacks, the Springboks fell to France in the quarterfinals, while DJ Forbes and company lost to eventual winners England at the same stage. They later lost to Australia in the semi-finals of the Plate.
On day one in Port Elizabeth, South Africa did not concede a single point, beating Canada 33-0, Kenya 45-0, and Australia 26-0. New Zealand, meanwhile, downed Morocco 39-7, Scotland 45-0, and France 41-0.
On day two South Africa faced France, the team that had ousted them from the Cup competition in Dubai by a 19-5 margin. This time around the South Africans showed much better focus and scored a 26-12 victory. New Zealand had an opportunity to make up for their loss to Australia a week earlier and they did just that, winning 21-5.
On to the semi-finals and Kyle Brown and his men faced a challenge from a revitalised Samoa, who had beaten Dubai champions England 24-14 in pool play. It was a tightly contested, physical contest, won 12-7 by the home team, but it was not quite as close as the score suggests because the islanders scored their points only after the hooter had sounded.
New Zealand had an opportunity to beat another of the teams they had lost to in Dubai when they met England in the semi-finals. A try by New Zealand Sevens Player of the Year Tim Mikkelson in the final minute of the contest broke open a 14-14 tie and saw the Kiwis win the game 19-14.
With plenty of support for the All Blacks in the crowd, it was an ideal final.
New Zealand were first on the board in the title-decider through captain DJ Forbes from a quick tap penalty by Tomasi Cama after Cecil Afrika had conceded possession near the halfway line. South Africa, though, hit back quickly through Bernardo Botha, who brushed off two tackles on his way to a try.
From the kick off, the Kiwis attacked from deep through Frank Halai. When he was brought down by Steven Hunt, Boom Prinsloo entered the ruck from the wrong side and was immediately shown a yellow card by the referee, sending him to the sidelines for two minutes.
New Zealand then hit the front again after Cama went over through a pick and go near the South African tryline.
The home side replied quickly when Hunt found Botha wide on the right after New Zealand had been sucked in by a number of bashes from close range at their line.
South Africa looked odds on to lead at half-time when Prinsloo, back on the field, picked up from a ruck and raced down the left hand touchline for the corner. He was brought down just centimetres short of the line and New Zealand turned over possession. They moved the ball wide to the left and Halai finished off the move at the other end of the park to give the men in black a 17-14 lead at half-time.
The Blitsbokke took the lead early in the second half when Hunt gathered at speed and rounded the New Zealand defence on the left to go over in the corner.
A well-timed side-step by Afrika then saw him score under the posts, and the successful conversion put the hosts 26-17 ahead.
An opportunity to wrap up the match was spurned by South Africa when they won a New Zealand lineout only for Cornal Hendriks and Afrika to both go for the pass and knock on.
Then, under pressure, Cama gave a loose pass and the ball sat up for Chris Dry. He should have easily gathered it, but instead knocked on and handed possession to New Zealand. They counter-attacked down the left and Halai rounded matters off by dotting down under the uprights, to make it South Africa 26, New Zealand 24.
With 30 seconds left, New Zealand attacked from deep inside their 22-metre area. The ball was hacked through and in a Keystone Cops moment two South African defenders tripped over one another, leaving Toby Arnold in the clear to pick up the ball and score the winning try under the posts. It ended New Zealand 31, South Africa 26.
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