South Africa beat Spain 24-0 in their opening match of the Olympic Sevens on Tuesday, reports GARY LEMKE in Rio.
Rugby sevens was making its Olympic debut – the last time it featured at the Games was in 1924, when the United States won gold – and the first men’s match of Rio 2016 was between Australia and France.
South Africa have always thought that Australia would be the team to beat in Pool B, but at half-time the men in yellow and green found themselves 17-0 down to France. It was to get no better as they were unable to turn things around, going down 29-14.
Taking the field to the sound of Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, South Africa looked motivated and conscious of the fact that Australia had slipped up against opponents they were tipped to beat – and who play Neil Powell’s men later in the day.
However, there were to be no such nerves for the slick South Africans. They were on the scoresheet within 90 seconds, thanks to Cecil Afrika, even if the pass to him looked forward, and that 7-0 became 14-0 before the break with Afrika showing good feet to score the try and convert.
There was never going to be a fairytale comeback from Spain, who had qualified at Samoa’s expense, and although they got the ball in hand and did their utmost to attack in the second period, the strong South African defence was committed and more than equal to the cause.
Seabelo Senatla showed why he’s the most feared man on the circuit when stretching his legs to race in at the left corner for his first Olympic try (19-0) and Philip Snyman got in on the act as well for 24-0. Afrika very nearly got his hat-trick, but spilled the ball when over the line and that was that.
Ultimately it was a comfortable cruise in a near midday sun for the South Africans, who will only get better now that they have got the win under their belts.
SA coach Neil Powell was satisfied with the result.
‘We always knew there’d be nerves and rustiness for that first game,' he said. 'The best thing was not conceding any tries against Spain because they are a dangerous team and they can make you pay. There are one or two things that we can do better – once or twice the ball didn’t go to hand and there was also some bunching in the defence.
'The tactic was to give everyone a run, so we used all five of our subs. The legs are always a bit heavy in the first game because of the nerves, so that was the plan, get everyone on the park and also get a positive result.’
Blitzboks Olympic fixtures and results (SA times):
Tuesday, 9 August:
Beat Spain 24-0
vs France (21:30)
Wednesday, 10 August
vs Australia (16:30)
Start of playoffs (21:00)