Head coach Sandile Ngcobo was a proud man after the Blitzboks produced a much-improved display in Hong Kong, as they are now back in the top-four race on the Sevens Series standings.
Losing three key games and finishing in sixth place this weekend, the South Africans climbed two spots on the overall table– from seventh to fifth – with three tournaments to go in the season. The four leading teams at the end of the season will gain automatic qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
New Zealand, who edged the Blitzboks on the second day and ended up winning Hong Kong Sevens, are in first place in the standings on 142 points. Argentina, who edged the Blitzboks in a tense fifth-place final on Sunday, are second on 121, followed by Fiji, who sneaked through in the Cup quarter-final against South Africa and ultimately lost in the Cup final, on 113.
France, who won the bronze medal in Hong Kong, are fourth on 112 points with the Blitzboks in fifth on 101, followed by Australia in sixth position (99 points), Samoa in seventh (96), and Ireland and the USA tied on eighth (91). Great Britain round off the top-10 on 72 points.
As a result of the final standings in Hong Kong, the Blitzboks have been grouped with New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong in a tough Pool A for next weekend’s HSBC Singapore Sevens.
Pool B will consist of Fiji, Spain, Samoa and Canada, Pool C is France, USA, Uruguay and Kenya, and Great Britain, Argentina, Ireland and Japan are in Pool D. The tournament at Singapore’s National Stadium kicks off on Saturday.
Ngcobo, who called up Jaiden Baron to replace the injured Zain Davids (hand fracture) in Singapore this week, was delighted as his team improved on defence and in keeping possession on attack.
“I really think we made a massive step up,” he said. “Of course, we are disappointed, as we know we’re a better team [than sixth], but we’ll hold our heads high and go back to zero on Monday so we can prepare accordingly and hit Singapore hard.
“In terms of our efforts this weekend, I’m really pleased. As a group, we are very hard on ourselves, but we planned well, had a good week leading up to the tournament, and we started in a manner that gave us momentum.
“We defended really well and forced teams to make hard decisions against us by eliminating their attacking opportunities. We can even be more selfish in keeping teams out – instead of conceding two tries, we must aim to only concede one, or better still, nothing at all.
“If we can get our tackle completion rate up to 82 to 85%, then we’ll know we’re on the right path and I believe we made a massive step up defensively.
“From an attacking point of view, we managed to keep the ball, create opportunities and we scored some beautiful tries.”
Ngcobo also said with a little more luck, especially against New Zealand and Fiji, the Blitzboks’ fortunes may have been different in Hong Kong. In both matches, the South Africans were in with a shout, but just came up short.
“We may have been a bit unlucky with one or two calls going against us in those games, and they ended up playing in the final,” he said.
“Next week, we’re looking to be even more selfish in terms of keeping our ball, and more ruthless and clinical in terms of putting teams away. If we have three opportunities, we have to use those and put teams away.
“We just want to put in a clinical performance, dominate and put our opponents away, and I believe we’re on the right path.”
The Blitzbok coach was also full of praise for the three players who made their debuts in the pressure cooker of Hong Kong Stadium, with all three – Donovan Don, Ethan James and Sebastiaan Jobb – also getting on the scoresheet during the tournament.
“We’re very proud of them – they came in and made their debuts when we were under pressure but that is what playing for the Springbok Sevens at this level is about,” said Ngcobo.
“They bought into the culture and were like sponges, soaking up all the information. We knew they would make mistakes, like any other youngster, but every single game they kept on eliminating those errors. Sure, some mistakes were a bit more costly, but they need to learn and if they don’t play, they won’t gain that experience.
“That is what the South Africa Sevens ‘A’ squad is all about – developing guys and giving them opportunities, so a massive thank you to Marius Schoeman who head-hunted all these players, who were key to our team in Hong Kong.”