South Africa and Tonga win Challenger Series opening leg trophies
South Africa women and Tonga men lifted trophies in Stellenbosch on Saturday after winning the opening tournament in the two-legged 2023 World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series. Three days of opening weekend action culminated in the host country coming from behind to defeat Belgium 17-10 in the women’s final, while the Tongans had too much firepower for Germany in the men’s final that they clinched with a 26-14 victory.
The 24 teams – 12 women’s and 12 men’s – will all be back in action next Friday at the same venue with the overall winner in the women’s section, which will be decided on aggregate points, securing promotion to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 as the 12th and final team.
The winner of the men’s competition, which will also be decided on aggregate points over the two events, will enter a four-team playoff at the HSBC London Sevens in May together with the teams placed 12th to 14th after 10 rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023. The winner of the playoff will achieve the coveted Sevens World Series 2024 status.
A try from Simamkele Namba was the only score in South Africa’s 5-0 women’s semi-final win over China. Then, after trailing Belgium 5-14 at the break, they became 24-19 title winners with a second-half flourish.
South Africa skipper Mathrin Simmers said: “I’m very happy with the performance. We started a bit slow, but we pulled through at the end of it. We were trailing at half-time but I just told them to stick to the processes, relax and focus on what we needed to do and stay in the moment.
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“We have a lot of confidence going into the second leg of the tournament but for us, it’s just about going back to zero and starting all over again. We will go through all the processes and the systems we do in training and go into the next leg of the tournament.”
In the bronze medal final, China defeated Poland 14-10, while Czechia were victorious 34-10 over Thailand in the fifth-place final. Madagascar narrowly beat Colombia 14-12 in the seventh-place match, Hong Kong China beat Mexico 15-12 in the ninth-place final, and Papua New Guinea defeated Paraguay 10-5 in the 11th place playoff.
The pool draw for next weekend’s round two pitted South Africa in Pool D with Thailand, Madagascar and Paraguay. Belgium drew Czechia, Colombia and Papua New Guinea in Pool E, while Pool F will feature China, Poland, Hong Kong China and Mexico.
In the men’s section, Tonga picked off Hong Kong China 33-0 in their semi-final before Soni Asi, John Tapueluelu, Kyren Taumoefolau and Tevita Manukea all scored to give them a 26-14 final win over Germany. Tongan captain Sione Tupou said: “This win means the world to us. This is a reward for all the hardships that we have been through.
“This win is for the future generation in Tonga. The second week of the Challenger Series is going to be tough for us because now everyone will come after the champions, but we trust in the team that we have and the positive spirit that we carry.”
In the fifth-place final, Uganda beat Italy 19-15 while Chile blanked Brazil 41-0 in the seventh-place decider, Zimbabwe defeated Papua New Guinea 40-17 for ninth place and Jamaica lost to Korea 12-5 in the 11th-place final.
Next weekend, Tonga will be joined by Italy, Chile and Jamaica in Pool A, Germany have been pitted against Uganda, Brazil and Korea in Pool B while in Pool C, Hong Kong China, Belgium, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea will battle it out.