Sevens rugby world champions!

Brad Morgan

1 June 2009

A 33-10 victory over France and a 34-5 win over the USA on the opening day of the Edinburgh Sevens, the final stop in the IRB Sevens World Series, ensured a first ever overall sevens rugby world title for South Africa, under coach Paul Treu.

New Zealand had dominated the previous season's series on their way to the title, but they were left behind in the 2008/09 series, eventually having to settle for fourth. Last season's champions met South Africa in the final match in Pool A to decide which side would top the standings and, as it had been for most of the season, it was SA that came out on top, winning a tight contest 14-12.

Although the title had been clinched, South Africa had to put their celebrations on hold until after the completion of the Edinburgh event as they progressed to the title-deciding contest.

Quarterfinal win

Treu's charges opened the second day with a 17-7 victory over a rejuvenated Australia, who had impressed on the opening day, beating Spain 24-7 and whitewashing Portugal 29-0 before suffering a narrow 26-19 defeat to Fiji.

That win put South Africa into the semi-finals where they faced the hosts, Scotland. The Scots had reached the semi-finals of the previous round, at Twickenham, where they fell to England, who went on to beat New Zealand to score a victory on home soil.

This time around the Scots dumped the English 33-17 in pool play. They suffered a 22-17 reversal against the hugely impressive Kenya, who evolved into a true Sevens power during the course of the season, and then beat Canada 26-5.

Scotland's form

On Sunday, Scotland edged out Samoa, who had scored some big wins on the opening day - 38-7 over Georgia, 21-14 over Wales, and 42-7 over Argentina – by 14 points to 12.

With their home fans roaring them on, Scotland started very impressively against South Africa, retaining possession very effectively before finally breaching the South African defence through Sean Lamont. The match then became something of an arm wrestle and, with time running out, South Africa found themselves still seven points down.

Some enterprising running, however, created half a gap for Ryno Benjamin and he forced his way over to the right of the uprights, which left captain Mzwandile Stick with a tricky kick to tie the game and send it into sudden death overtime. His kick was straight and true.

In overtime Gip Aplon broke Scottish hearts by breaking through for the try that sent SA into the final.

Fiji reach final

In the second semi-final, Fiji outplayed Wales 28-14, with only a late five-pointer bringing some sort of respectability to the scoreline for the Welsh.

The Fijians started the final strongly, controlling the ball as South Africa struggled to get possession. Emosi Vucago put the islanders in front, but Ryno Benjamin replied for the series champions, and a successful conversion made it 7-5 in their favour.

Fiji continued to dominate possession and created a massive overlap on the right flank. All Benjamin could do was shepherd the try scorer Pio Tuwai out wide, which resulted in a missed conversion attempt.

Lucky try

Fiji kept pressing and were rewarded with their third try before the break through Osea Kolinisau. They were somewhat lucky as a television replay proved that he had been tackled into touch before dotting down, but the try stood as decisions in Sevens are made by the on-field officials and not by television replays. A third missed conversion attempt, however, left them only 15-7 in front, despite outscoring South Africa by three tries to one in the half.

A superb try by Vereniki Goneva, in which he exhibited both strength and skill, put Fiji well in command and it looked as if the final had been decided. But it was far from over.

Gio Aplon came up centimetres short as South Africa exerted stiff pressure on the islanders, but it wasn't long before he broke through to reduce the gap to 20-12.

One point in it

Renfred Dazel, the sweeper and an excellent playmaker, then broke the line before beating the Fijian sweeper to score South Africa's third try. With the conversion going over, SA trailed 20-19 and it was anyone's game.

South Africa got hold of the ball but, with time ticking down, they were penalised at a breakdown. The Fijians delayed taking the free kick and there were only two seconds left on the clock when they finally did. A kick into touch and they had won the Edinburgh Sevens.

The win lifted Fiji up to second in the final Sevens World Series standings, above England, but some way behind South Africa.

Praise from the coach

Coach Paul Treu praised his team after the completion of the tournament. "It's a bit disappointing to end the season like this," he said, "but I told the guys that we have been the most consistent team of the year.

"We have waited for 10 years to win the IRB World Sevens Series, so we might as well enjoy this. We are the best team in the world and now we are going back to South Africa as the champions of the world. Let's not forget that feeling because it does not happen every day.

"There's been some great moments this season and what the guys have achieved will go down in eternity.

"I would also like to thank all our great supporters in South Africa and then also a huge thanks to SA Rugby for their support."

Final points' standings

South Africa finished on 132 points, Fiji were second on 102, England ended with 98, fourth-placed New Zealand had 88, Argentina 68, and sixth-placed Kenya 64.

South Africa finished the season with victories in Dubai, George, and Adelaide, while England won in Wellington and London, Fiji took victory in Hong Kong and Edinburgh, and Argentina won in San Diego.

SA also reached the final of the Cup in Hong Kong and Edinburgh, the semi-finals of the Cup competitions in San Diego and London, and won the Plate competition in Wellington.

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South African Sevens star Mzwandile Stick (Photo: SA Rugby)

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