Changes to the latest leg of the Sevens World Series has led to a disastrous result for South Africa, who entered the tournament sitting atop the Series ladder, alongside hosts New Zealand.
With one gold and one silver medal each after the tournament’s first two events in Dubai and Cape Town, the Hamilton Sevens was always likely to separate the two nations that have been the quickest out of the gate this season.
You wouldn’t have suspected that the separation would come so early in the tournament, however, with South Africa being bundled out in the pool stages.
Whereas previous tournaments have seen the top two teams from each pool progress through to the quarterfinals, the two-day event in Hamilton follows a new format, with just the top-ranked team progressing.
Losing one game in a pool hasn’t been a death knell in the past, but it would take an incredible amount of luck to make it to the top bracket of play-offs at Hamilton if you were to drop a game.
South Africa, placed in a pool alongside Japan, England and Kenya, were always expected to be challenged by their opposition in the round-robin stages of the tournament, but few would have predicted that the Blitzbokke would fall to England on the first day of the competition – albeit losing by just two points, 19-21.
That loss meant South Africa were dependant on Japan, the lowest-ranked side in the competion, besting England – a result which would turn the Sevens world on its head.
As has eventuated, South Africa had other things to worry about. In their third-round match, the Blitzbokke found themselves up against a dangerous Kenyan side that had pushed England right to the edge – a Kenyan side baying for blood.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 25, 2020
Within seven minutes, the match was all but over.
Cecil Afrika, one of South Africa’s most experienced players, was given a yellow card for trying to shut down a Kenyan attack from an offside position, and the underdogs capitalised, scoring three quick tries to build a 19-0 lead.
Those three tries were all Kenya needed, with the Blitzbokke only managing two throughout the game, which eventually finished 36-14 in the Kenyans’ favour.
The two losses have consigned South Africa to a third-place finish in their pool – which wouldn’t even be enough to grant them a spot in the Cup quarter-finals of a three-day tournament.
France and Australia both dropped matches in their pools but with no sides in either of their groups going undefeated, progressed on their superior points differentials.
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