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South Africa and Tonga win Challenger Series opening leg trophies

By Liam Heagney
Tonga and South Africa celebrate in Stellenbosch (Photo by World Rugby)

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.

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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.

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Black Fern Stacey Fluhler on winning gold at the World Sevens Series in Hong Kong

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Black Fern Stacey Fluhler on winning gold at the World Sevens Series in Hong Kong

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.

“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.

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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.

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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.

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Wonton 6 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

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Nick 8 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

31 Go to comments
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