In the first of a new series looking back on rugby’s most memorable comebacks, DYLAN JACK rewinds to the day when the Blitzboks beat Australia in the 2011 Edinburgh Sevens final.
The Blitzboks are likely to feature again in this new series as the South African Sevens team has time and again shown the character and mentality to get themselves out of difficult positions.
However, the team was in a uniquely tough position going into the Edinburgh Sevens final against Australia in 2011. Paul Treu’s side made it through to the final after finishing unbeaten in their pool and winning against Samoa and Wales in the playoffs, but it came at a massive cost.
The Blitzboks lost both Branco du Preez and Neil Powell, at that time still a player, to ankle and rib injuries, respectively, and were without inspirational captain Kyle Brown, who also suffered an ankle injury in the semi-finals. That meant that they went into the final with just two fit reserves.
Australia, who were beaten in the pool stages by the South Africans, wasted no time in punishing their opponent’s errors, taking a 21-7 lead into half time, with future Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley scoring a brace of tries. To make things worse, the Blitzboks lost Paul Delport to a concussion in the first half, with the player having to be stretchered off after injuring his head in a tackle.
The Blitzboks looked dead and buried in the second half, despite attempting an initial comeback through tries from Frankie Horn and Bernardo Botha, when Foley scored his third to make it 35-19 with three minutes left on the clock.
Enter Steven Hunt and Sibusiso Sithole, two of the younger players in the squad. Hunt had scored South Africa’s only try in the first half, but managed to complete an unlikely hat-trick with a quickfire brace to give his side hope. With time up on the clock, and the Australians leading 35-31, the Blitzboks managed to retain possession from the kick-off, despite an almighty effort from the Australians to counter-ruck.
Left with few options outside him, Sithole picked up the ball from the breakdown and embarked on a cross-field run, taking the Australian defenders on the outside. After handing off an attempted tackle, Sithole turned on the gas and outsprinted the rest the defenders to cross the tryline and score with an acrobatic dive, sparking mad celebrations on the Blitzboks’ bench.
The game was yet another demonstration of how exciting a sevens game can be, while it also showed the Blitzboks’ never-say-die attitude, something they would continue under Powell.
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