Blitzboks’ bittersweet London shift

Werner Kok of South Africa is tackled by Joe Pincus of Australia during the South Africa v Australia Challenge Cup Quarter Finals on day two of the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham Stadium on May 26, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Neil Powell’s troops didn’t cover themselves in glory in the penultimate round of the World Series, but still ticked an important box.

There was disappointment and tempered elation in the Springbok Sevens camp in London, where they lost both their matches but still did enough to secure automatic qualification to the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, thereby ticking an important box for the 2018/19 season.

The defeats to Australia, in the Cup quarter-final, and New Zealand meant the Blitzboks finished the London Sevens in a disappointing joint-seventh place, but they secured the fourth spot in the 2018/19 World Rugby Sevens Series after England faltered in their home tournament.

The top four teams in the World Series were guaranteed automatic passage to the Olympic Games in the Japanese capital in 2020, and the USA, Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa have booked those slots after the weekend’s action.

Although they struggled in London, finishing in the top four a highlight for Blitzbok coach Neil Powell, who was disappointed following the Cup quarter-final defeat by 29-22 against Australia.

In their second match of the day, New Zealand won by 21-17 after the Blitzboks conceded a try after the final hooter.

“One of our main aims at the start of the season was to make sure we qualify in the top four in order to get that automatic qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” said Powell.

“We ticked that box and we are grateful and pleased with that. It does ease the disappointment of our performances here on the second day a bit. Our match against Australia was probably our worst all season as we simply didn’t play near to what we are capable of and supposed to.”

The Australians, who later contested the Cup final against Fiji, scored tries in quick succession in the first and second halves, leaving South Africa to play catch-up rugby all along.

“Maybe we had it too easy on the first day,” lamented Powell.

“The younger players need to learn that you cannot bank on good performances on day one and then not show up the next. We were just not good enough in that match and that was very disappointing.”

Powell was pleased with the effort against New Zealand though: “At least we showed some effort in that match and I will never fault that. The result was unfortunate, but we showed some urgency in the match.”

The London Sevens was won by Fiji.

Next weekend, the World Series will conclude in Paris, where the Blitzboks will be defending their tournament title.

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