USA Sevens: Blitzboks Reign Supreme

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2017 Wellington Sevens
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 29: Ruhan Nel and Rosko Specman of South Africa celebrate the win in the Cup Final match between Fiji and South Africa during the 2017 Wellington Sevens at Westpac Stadium on January 29, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

A year ago they struggled to put games to bed, however this season South Africa have won four out of five HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments. The form team on the circuit, the Blitzboks Reign Supreme and will be hard to beat.

Think back to November 2016, South African rugby was in turmoil. After losing eight tests in a single season; the very worst on recent record for the Springboks, it seemed to be a disaster for the Rainbow Nation. It was unknown how those issues might seep into the other forms of rugby–so who would have thought that the sevens rugby team (the Blitzboks) would give the Nation back a huge sense of pride.

Now, only four months on, and the South African side is jubilant at the results. It has translated into skillful play, a highly motivated team and a head coach who is harnessing that ‘feel good factor’ to reign supreme in the 2016/17 Sevens Series.

Blitzboks Reign Supreme in Las Vegas

Cup Final: South Africa 19 Fiji 12

In another well directed tournament, the Blitzbok powered through Pool A on their march to a fifth finals appearance, in five rounds.

During the Cup final, the South Africans tries were scored by Cecil Afrika, Rosko Speckman and Chris Dry while Fiji scored twice through Masivesi Dakuwaqa. Over the match, the South Seas Islanders couldn’t slow the pace of the game or slow down the Africans ball retention. Across this season, only the English have been successful with that challenge in Cape Town.

However, the depth from their bench is one major ingredient to the Blitzboks success, as they benefit from playing together over the past two seasons. Siwive Soyizwapi was on fire, in coming out the shadows of Seabelo Senatla. As did Dylan Sage taking over from Kwaga Smith.

The whole squad contributed, and even with the firepower from Fiji, even a man like Mesulame Kunavula–who had a grand tournament, grabbing five tries–could not counter the South African team dynamic.

USA Sevens – Day Two results

Cup Quarter finals: South Africa 17 Australia 14 | Argentina 19 United States 21 | Fiji 31 Canada 12 | England 0 New Zealand 19
Trophy Quarter finals: France 24 Japan 14 | Kenya 21 Chile 19 | Scotland 28 Wales 21 | Samoa 21 Russia 7
Cup Semi final: RSA 20 USA 17 | Fiji 19 NZL 14
Trophy Semi final: France 7 Kenya 14 | Scotland 0 Samoa 24

Cup Final: South Africa 19 Fiji 12

Trophy final: Kenya 21 Samoa 14

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United States Claim Rare Win Over Kiwis

United States claimed one of their rare victories over the Kiwis, to claim the bronze medal in Las Vegas. Andrew Durutalo scored right at the death, to earn the hosts a hard fought 19-15 victory. This third place win moves the Americans up to sixth spot on the overall series standings (see bottom of page).

Danny Barrett; who made the Dream Team of the USA7’s tournament, was outstanding over the weekend, so was Maka Unufe–the super-substitute. Coach Mike Friday used his bench to great effect to help his team reach, and win the playoff game in front of the large home crowd.

New Zealand had a great tournament, reaching the semi finals and in reality, are showing the greatest improvement by a leading team thus far for 2016/17. From the ‘walking wounded’ last year, to a more well prepared and motivated group.

Vilimoni Koroi continues to impress, with Issac Te Tamaki finally finding his footing on the world stage. DJ Forbes is turning out to be like a fine wine–he keeps getting better with age. He was everywhere, along with senior team member Tim Mikkelson. The pair are performing, while sharing their knowledge with promising rookie Trael Joas.

The Kiwis will head to Vancouver hoping to make that one step up, into a final. Team USA too, will want the same goal–it makes for a great Round Six in Vancouver.

England Manage to Take Fifth Spot

England took fifth place in Vegas, by beating the much improved Australian side 10-7 in their playoffs decider. However, they drop a place in the standings after losing to New Zealand 19-0 in the quarter finals. The English have been inconsistent over the past two seasons; winning in Round Two, yet failing more often than not. If they find a remedy, they will become like South Africa, more refined.

Australia found their rhythm with the return of their senior players in Ed Jenkins, Tom Lucas and Nick Malouf. On the other hand, they have unearthed a prolific try scorer in Lachie Anderson. The rookie topped the try scoring list grabbing seven tries. Starting Tom Lucas over James Stannard is the way forward for them with Lewis Holland still nursing injuries.

Kenya Hold Out for Challenge Trophy Victory

Kenya made the best of not reaching the Cup knockout stages, to claim the Challenge Trophy after defeating the much improved Samoan side 21-14. Kenya; like England, United States and Argentina, struggle with inconsistencies every season. But on their day, they can counter any top side.

This season they have blended new players along with the old, giving them more chance to prove their worth. Bush Mwale and Nelson Oyoo are taking their chances with ‘open arms’. They have really grown since their debuts last season. On the other hand, Billy Odhiambo continues to lead the DHL Performance Tracker, with Willy Ambaka in fourth spot.

For Samoa, recalling Falemiga Selesele, Alex Samoa and Afa Aiono made instant impact for the Samoans. Their presence changed the Samoans game, and brought back some of that flair and passion missing in recent outings. Laaloi Leilua had an outstanding tournament, as he continues to unleash his true potential.

USA Sevens Performance Awards

DHL Player of the Tournament

Vatemo Ravouvou (FIJ)

HSBC USA Sevens ‘Dream Team’

The sponsor’s top seven players holds many of the ‘top cards’ in the Vegas pack. Stars, but also full of diamonds that will shine brightest after the US event.

LWOR Outstanding ‘Stars’ on Show in Las Vegas

Over the weekend, the LWOR staff have seen several players who should be highlighted. It includes a member of the Trophy winning Kenyan side, a player from Scotland, Japan Samoa and New Zealand. Two Fijians showed their skill, and deserve recognition.

Laaloi Leilua (SAM), Masivesi Dakuwaqa (FIJ), Isaac  Te Tamaki (NZL), Vatemo Ravouvou (FIJ), Andrew Amonde (KEN), Kameli Soejima (JPN), Jamie Farndale (SCO).

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HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series table:

Such a huge points break over the chasing pack, the Blitzboks reign supreme over all 16 Sevens Series sides. The question now is “who can possibly stop them?”

 

“Main photo credit”

 

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