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30 Mar 2008 15:12
South Africa’s Sevens team may have been beaten 26-12 by New Zealand in the final of the Hong Kong World Sevens on Sunday, but they showed they are closing the gap on the runaway leaders of the competition.
New Zealand are now on 110 points after winning all five finals this season, while the Boks remain in second spot with 72 points. Fiji are third with 62.
Springbok captain Neil Powell praised his charges and said it was only a matter of time before they beat the All Blacks.
The Boks also lost the final in the United States a few weeks ago.
“This New Zealand team is certainly one of the best I’ve played against in my time on the circuit, but we’ve shown we’re gaining on them and will beat them at some stage.
The Boks gifted the New Zealanders two easy tries, scored by Lote Raikabula and Steven Yates, but they hit back in the seventh minute when Mzwandile Stick capitalised on a rare Kiwi mistake when they turned the ball over at a ruck and ran all of 50m to score under the posts. The conversion closed the gap to seven points, but the Boks did not score again until after the hooter had blown.
Raikabula scored just before the interval to give the All Blacks a 21-7 lead going into the final 10 minutes and when Zar Lawrence crossed the line after a minute of the restart, the match was all but over. Bok flyhalf Fabian Juries got a consolation try at the end.
“We made too many mistakes and missed crucial tackles in the early exchanges and that set us back quite a bit,” said Powell. “New Zealand controlled the game from those two tries inside four minutes and we were always playing catch-up.
“They’re a well-oiled machine, who’re showing awesome form, but in time we can certainly be as potent as they’ve become recently.”
South Africa coach Paul Treu said his players had been overawed by the occasion.
“They got caught in the moment and conceding two early tries made it very difficult for us. But I think we showed good character to not let them get away with the game. Inexperience is costing us in big games like this, but we’re going to get to the stage when we can compete with this New Zealand team on an even footing.
“You must remember they’ve been together for a few years now and know each other extremely well. They hardly make mistakes because they know how the guys next to them operate. But I’m proud of the guys—they got to the final of the biggest Sevens tournament in the world.”
The Boks can look back on a highly successful tournament in which they played six matches and lost only the final.
In their Pool C clashes they downed Japan, Russia and Argentina and on Sunday also scored good victories against Australia and Samoa.
Powell, Frankie Horne and Renfred Dazel scored tries in the quarterfinal clash with Australia to see the Boks win 19-14. In the semifinal, against 2007 cup winners, Samoa, the Boks left it till late to triumph 12-10. Tries by MJ Mentz and Stick helped the Boks through, but it was the outstanding tackling by the likes of Jonathan Mokuena and Vuyo Zangqa that really made the difference in a tight semifinal showdown.
Defending Bowl champions from 2007, Russia, retained their title with a 19-14 win over Zimbabwe, while France beat Argentina 17-14 in sudden death extra time to capture the Plate.
The Boks now head to Adelaide in Australia for the sixth round of the World Sevens series. - Sapa
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