James Rodwell scored a late try to hand England a comeback 21-15 win over the Blitzboks at the Sydney Sevens on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Earlier in the day, the Springbok Sevens overcame Japan and Kenya, but failed to look all that convincing in the manner they went about their business.
Their indifferent form then came back to haunt them when they sacrificed an eight-point lead in the second half against England, with Dan Norton and Rodwell scoring in the latter stages to hand their side a win that sees them finish top of the pool.
The Blitzboks still finish second in the group, and will have the opportunity to compete for the Cup title on Sunday, but they will now have to do it the hard way.
Just as England did in the Cape Town Sevens final, they threw the Blitzboks off their usual free-flowing game, with Phil Burgess striking an important early blow when he scored an opportunistic try after just a couple of minutes of play.
South Africa quickly hit back with a superb solo try to Seabelo Senatla, while a beautiful cross-kick from Justin Geduld then set up Chris Dry for a five-pointer that put the Blitzboks 10-7 up at the break.
Just after the restart, Geduld then turned from provider to try scorer with a superb solo run that opened up a handy eight-point buffer, but the Blitzboks then lost their way, and it was England who pounced to finish day one undefeated.
Meanwhile, it was confirmed later on Saturday that the influential Werner Kok has been ruled out of the tournament due to a calf injury sustained against Japan.
Kok has been replaced by Stephan Dippenaar, who just joined the team yesterday. Dippenaar himself was a late replacement for Sandile Ngcobo, who had to return to South Africa for a family bereavement.
'It was bad for us as Werner is one of our starting players and is playing very well at the moment,' coach Neil Powell commented. 'The next guy must now step in and shows what he can do, that is what the system is all about.'
Cup quarter-finals (SA times):
02:58: England vs Argentina
03:20: New Zealand vs Fiji
03:42: United States vs South Africa
04:04: Wales vs Australia
Stats and facts:
• South Africa vs USA head to head: Played 42, South Africa won 37, Average score 26-8. Last met at Cape Town Sevens 2016, South Africa won 28-10.
• Seabelo Senatla has extended his all-time try-scoring record for the Springbok Sevens team to 186. He is also the leading try-scorer in the 2016-17 series with 30 tries.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/World Rugby