The Blitzboks will play Australia in the Cup quarter-finals of the Wellington Sevens after suffering a 19-14 defeat to New Zealand. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
South Africa looked to have snatched the result when Rosko Specman showed beautiful footwork to put Cheslin Kolbe away for a try in the final minute of the match on Saturday, which took his team into a 14-12 lead.
However, New Zealand had one final opportunity to counter-attack when they retained possession from the next kick-off, with regular time having elapsed, and a Sonny Bill Williams offload eventually put Joe Webber away for the match-winning try.
Much of the pre-match focus had been on Williams, who made his debut and scored his first try in sevens as New Zealand beat Russia 38-7 and Scotland 27-7 in their first two games. However, all the talk proved to be somewhat premature when Williams was omitted from the starting lineup and only came on with a couple of minutes left to play.
Yet he would have a say in the decisive final play, leaving the Blitzboks to rue a number of missed opportunities, although there will also be a question over a contentious referee decision when the visitors looked to have held the ball up in a maul, which would have resulted in a turnover.
Right at the start, New Zealand failed to collect the kick-off and it enabled the Blitzboks to launch an early attack as they regained possession, but their first foray into opposition territory ultimately amounted to naught.
However, the hosts would make another costly unforced error when they overthrew a lineout and the Blitzboks’ Kwagga Smith needed no second invitation as he latched onto the loose ball and darted over under the posts to score after just two minutes of play.
New Zealand continued to look out of sorts, but they struck a crucial blow with the final play of the half as they benefited from a couple of missed tackles to break away and score, with Sam Dickson the man to dot down.
The missed conversion meant South Africa held a tenuous two-point lead at the break, but the Blitzboks found themselves trailing midway through the second half when Akira Ioane showed a clean pair of heels to beat the tackle of Francois Hougaard to score under the posts.
In the dramatic final stages of the clash, the lead changed hands twice, but it would be New Zealand who celebrated in front of their home fans and will now face Kenya in their quarter-final.
The Blitzboks made an impressive start to the day’s play as they cruised to a 28-5 victory over Scotland in their opening clash.
Justin Geduld and Seabelo Senatla scored in the first half, while Juan de Jongh and Specman dotted down soon after the restart to help clinch a comfortable victory, with Sandile Ngcobo earning his debut.
In their second clash of the day, the Blitzboks were simply too good for Russia, running in eight tries on their way to a 54-0 victory, with Senatla and Specman both scoring a brace.
Sunday's Cup quarter-final lineup:
New Zealand vs Kenya (02:02)
England vs Argentina (02:24)
South Africa vs Australia (02:46)
Fiji vs United States (03:08)