The memory of Nelson Mandela loomed large in Port Elizabeth on Sunday as the Blitzbokke came from behind to seal a dramatic victory over New Zealand.
The South African team took huge inspiration from a 32 000 strong home crowd and all the emotions of fellow South Africans to win the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens tournament, which they dedicated to the memory of the former President.
The South Africans fought back from a 14-0 deficit early in the first half to beat defending champions New Zealand 17-14 in a tense final and clinch Round Three of the Sevens World Series.
Two late first half tries got the Bok Sevens back in contention and a Kyle Brown try in the second half gave them a lead they would not surrender again. They kept their composure in the last minutes to keep New Zealand at bay and away from the gold medal presentation.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell was a very relieved man afterwards.
“We needed to be close to New Zealand at the break, so when we scored late in the first half (through Branco du Preez), it meant a lot to the guys. We showed a lot of guts out there and the guys really played for each other. I am a very proud coach at the moment,” said Powell, who won his first title after only three tournaments in charge.
According to Powell, the Madiba magic touched his team and they dedicated this victory to his memory.
“It was a very emotional weekend for all South Africans, but we realised that we needed to do it for his memory and for ourselves. We could only do it by playing as a team and playing for each other,” added Powell.
Springbok Sevens captain Kyle Brown, also praised his teammates for their special effort.
“We were all desperate for a good result and knew that we had to do this as a team. We had to dig deep to come back, but I never doubted the character and will to win,” Brown said.
“This is a special win and we cannot thank the crowd enough for their support. It was also important for us to keep improving and following our fourth place at the Gold Coast and second spot in Dubai, a win here justified the hard work the squad has put into training,” according to Brown.
New Zealand raced into a 14-0 lead with two converted tries, but a brace by Branco du Preez got his side back into contention.
A great piece of individual play by Brown early in the second half saw the South African captain sprint 40 metres for a try that proved to be the match winner.
With this win, South Africa also moved up the World Series standings and are now in second place with 56 points, just two behind New Zealand with 58. Fiji (48) drops to third with England remaining in fourth spot (40).
The draw for the next round, the Las Vegas Sevens to be played on 26-28 January, was also made in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
South Africa will travel to the USA as top seeds and will play Kenya, Wales and Canada in pool A.
Courtesy of Rugby365.com
The former President achieved much during his 95 years as he fought oppression and united a nation, and his impact on South African rugby was profound.
SARU has paid tribute to the extraordinary life and unselfish contribution to the establishment of a united South Africa, of former President Mandela. who passed away peacefully at his home on Thursday.
“All of our lives are poorer today at the extinguishing of the great beacon of light and hope that led the way for our country through the transition to democracy,” said SARU President Oregan Hoskins.
“We have been steeling ourselves for this day for some time but, now it has arrived, the sadness is no less. Madiba had a place in all our hearts and his passing is a personal blow to us all.
“The South African Rugby Union shares in our nation’s sadness: Madiba was a great man of vision, determination and integrity who performed a miracle that amazed the world as much as it amazed his fellow countrymen.
“His name will rank among that of the greatest liberators and humanitarians for as long as mankind walks the earth. It was our privilege to have lived in this country during his lifetime,” he added.
Mandela was a legendary freedom fighter, the first democratically elected South African State President and a Noble Peace Prize winner.
He used the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the first major sporting event to be hosted in South Africa after the 1994 democratic elections, as an instrument of change to help promote unity amongst all South Africans.
“Madiba was a true icon of inspiration and as much as South Africa owes so much to him, so does rugby,” said Hoskins. “Through his extraordinary vision, he was able to use the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument to help promote nation building just one year after South Africa’s historic first democratic election.
“Mr Mandela was also instrumental in retaining the Springbok as the emblem for our national team at a time when a chorus of voices advocated a change of the symbol, for various reasons. It was an act of reconciliation and generosity of spirit which no one could have expected.
“The South African Rugby Union also sincerely appreciated the many times he inspired the Springboks to many great heights on the playing field. However, Mr Mandela inspired the entire South African nation with his kindness, generosity and ability not only to forgive, but also to understand his fellow citizens.
“The countless accolades bestowed upon him by various institutions and governments across the globe are testimony to his unique, caring and very humble character. I believe it is a legacy and personality trait to which all of us must aspire,” he added.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said: “My lasting memory of Madiba is that of a person who had enormous ability to bring people together. His presence at a Test Match just lifted the crowd and energised the team – it is actually hard to describe.
“Of course, as a sportsman I am so grateful for him for what he did for our country. He inspired South Africans, who for so long were very divided, to peacefully build a united Rainbow Nation.”
Hoskins said that SARU was considering ways in which the Madiba Legacy could be honoured in rugby.
Courtesy of Rugby365.com
With only three international fixtures over the weekend, the focus was on the pulsating encounter between Wales and the touring Australians at Millennium Stadium.
Wales’ ninth successive defeat by the Wallabies means their ranking points total falls 0.79, allowing France, despite having completed their fixtures for the year, to go fifth thanks to an unchanged points total.
Wales began the November series in sixth, so while recent results were a missed chance to climb the rankings, they were also an opportunity to consolidate.
Their two wins – against Argentina and Tonga – and two defeats – against South Africa and Australia – largely echoed recent form.
For Australia, the last match of their end-of-year tour was a fitting finale to a tour in which the Wallabies got better as they went on.
After sustaining defeat by England in their first match of the tour, the Wallabies have steadily reasserted themselves to finish the trip on a high note.
Beginning the November internationals fourth in the world, the Wallabies lost ground on England after that Cook Cup result.
But as the tourists gained momentum with wins over Italy, Ireland and Scotland, they reclaimed their world No.3 spot from England, where they finish the year behind fellow southern hemisphere heavyweights New Zealand and South Africa.
The two other international fixtures of the weekend do not affect the IRB World Rankings: Fiji’s 19-43 loss against the Barbarians (because the latter are an invitational side) and the 22-8 win for Cyprus over Austria in European Nations Cup Division 2C (because Cyprus are not full an IRB member union).
IRB World Rankings – Top 20:
(Last week’s position in brackets)
1(1) New Zealand 93.81
2(2) South Africa 89.34
3(3) Australia 86.09
4(4) England 85.70
5(6) France 80.87
6(5) Wales 80.19
7(7) Ireland 79.33
8(8) Samoa 77.34
9(9) Scotland 76.56
10(10) Argentina 76.44
11(11) Fiji 74.21
12(12) Tonga 73.21
13(13) Italy 73.13
14(14) Japan 72.06
15(15) Canada 70.75
16(16) Georgia 69.07
17(17) Romania 67.47
18(18) USA 67.41
19(19) Russia 61.14
20(20) Uruguay 60.77
Courtesy of Rugby365.com
2014 Rugby Championship fixtures:
Australia vs New Zealand (Stadium Australia, Sydney)
South Africa vs Argentina (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
New Zealand vs Australia (Eden Park, Auckland)
Argentina vs South Africa (TBC, Argentina)
Australia vs South Africa (Patersons Stadium, Perth)
New Zealand vs Argentina (McLean Park, Napier)
Australia vs Argentina (Skilled Park, Gold Coast)
New Zealand vs South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
South Africa vs Australia (Newlands, Cape Town)
Argentina vs New Zealand (TBC, Argentina)
South Africa vs New Zealand (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Argentina vs Australia (TBC, Argentina)
The Baby Boks have been grouped with Scotland, Samoa, and traditional rivals New Zealand for the 7th installment of the global age-group tournament.
South Africa kick off their tournament on Monday 2 June 2014 against Scotland at the Pukekohe Stadium, then face New Zealand on Friday 6 June in the North Harbour Stadium and then complete their Pool C fixtures against Samoa on Wednesday 10 June in Pukekohe.
“It’s going to be a massive challenge for top spot in each of the pools, more so in our pool where we are up against New Zealand, who will be determine to win back the JWC trophy in front of their own fans, Samoa who will also have huge support and Scotland, who always fight till the end,” explained Baby Bok coach Dawie Theron.
South Africa kick play their first match on Monday 2 June 2014 against Scotland at the Pukekohe Stadium, then face New Zealand on Friday 6 June in the North Harbour Stadium and then complete their Pool C fixtures against Samoa on Wednesday 10 June in Pukekohe.