South Africa beat Japan 54-14 in the bronze-medal match at the Olympic Sevens on Thursday, reports GARY LEMKE in Rio.
Perhaps, in the context of the lofty expectations, winning a bronze medal at the Olympics felt a bit like kissing one’s sister, but South Africa’s sevens team helped take the country’s tally to four at these Rio Games.
It must have been a tough few hours between that 7-5 surprise defeat to Great Britain at the Deodoro Stadium and the bronze-medal match against Japan, but Neil Powell’s men are a proud and professional unit and they got the job done, in style. And, when the dust had settled, a bronze is more than nine other countries, including New Zealand and Australia, achieved at the first rugby installment at an Olympics since 1924.
South Africa made their intentions known right from the kick-off and within a minute they’d crossed the line – the third time this tournament they’d scored that quickly – after a sweeping movement downfield was finished off by Juan de Jongh, who gave Cecil Afrika an easy conversion.
With three minutes gone Rosko Speckman received the ball from a scrum and he darted off, beating three defenders on a jinking run to the line. Again, Afrika popped over the conversion and at 14-0 and with so much time to play – the match was 10 minutes each half – the early signs was that this could become a real statement of intent.
But Japanese rugby is on the rise, as they say, and they weren’t simply going to sit back and be humiliated, despite that 20-5 semi-final reverse to Fiji. And so it proved when their captain, the 1.88m, 98kg Lusaka Kuwazuru, crashed over for a try.
Japan swarmed all over South Africa from the kick-off but the ball was worked to Dylan Sage on the right and he went on a rampaging run from deep inside his own 22, carrying the ball, and a couple of Japan defenders, over the halfway line, before Afrika continued the move and sent a long pass over to Speckman on the left and he raced over, with Afrika making it 21-7 with the kick at the interval.
‘It’s nil-nil right, nil-nil’ barked captain Kyle Brown at half-time, no doubt ordering his men to start from scratch in the second half.
However, it was Japan who responded quickest, with Kazuhiro Goya finding a gap and sprinting fully 70m to the line and narrowing the gap to 21-14. The counter-reaction was swift, first with Cheslin Kolbe making good ground, and the ball being offloaded to Afrika, who found daylight on the halfway line, and he ran in unopposed to convert his own try for 28-14.
With five minutes left, Afrika picked up the ball at the base of a maul and went blind, running in a try in the corner from a long way out. He kicked the conversion – and how Powell and the whole of South Africa must have seen the irony of how different things could have been had he produced that kind of conversion kick against Great Britain.
Now the floodgates had opened and the Japan resistance folded. Justin Geduld came on and got in on the act in the corner and this time Afrika hit the upright but the score had stretched to 40-14 with two minutes left.
Thirty seconds later Speckman broke clear and got in under the uprights for his third try and Afrika made it 47-14.
South Africa won two penalties after the hooter but wanted more. And they got more with Kolbe finishing off for Afrika to convert and see them complete their first Olympic campaign in style.
The gold-medal match was as one-sided, with Fiji thrashing Great Britain 43-7 after leading 29-0 at half-time. It is Fiji's first-ever Olympic medal.
Gold medal match:
Fiji 43 Great Britain 7
Bronze medal match:
South Africa 54 Japan 14
Fiji 20 Japan 5
Great Britain 7 South Africa 5
Fiji 12 New Zealand 7
Japan 12 France 7
Great Britain 5 Argentina 0 (after extra time)
South Africa 22 Australia 5
Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP Photo