HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens 2019: From calamity to champions

Left: Fiji's Napolioni Bolaca trying to fend off South Africa's Werner Kok (far left) and Chris Dry in the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens Cup final yesterday at the National Stadium. Below: The South African team celebrating their second win in the last
Fiji's Napolioni Bolaca trying to fend off South Africa's Werner Kok (left) and Chris Dry in the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens Cup final yesterday at the National Stadium. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Fiji's Napolioni Bolaca trying to fend off South Africa's Werner Kok (far left) and Chris Dry in the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens Cup final yesterday at the National Stadium. Below: The South African team celebrating their second win in the last
The South African team celebrating their second win in the last thee legs of the world series.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

South Africa battle back from 19-0 half-time deficit to stun defending champions Fiji

The last time South Africa won the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens, Mark Zuckerberg had just created Facebook, the great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti had delivered his last performance in an opera, and the National Stadium was still a hulking mass of grey concrete.

Yesterday, the Blitzboks repeated their 2004 feat and in incredible fashion, too.

They looked dead and buried after trailing champions Fiji 19-0 at half-time, but mounted an astonishing comeback in the second with three tries and a penalty to pull off an unlikely 20-19 win with just seconds left on the clock.

South Africa's 92kg centre Werner Kok, known for his bulging muscles and wild hair, told The Straits Times: "This actually put tears in my eyes. A rugby player doesn't say this very often - it was very emotional, the guys were crying. It's just an amazing, amazing feeling."

Blitzboks captain Siviwe Soyizwapi, sidelined for the final with a shin injury, said: "I always believed in the guys' abilities. No one tried to be a hero, we just stuck to what we practised and how we want to play."

Aminiasi Tuimaba, Napolioni Bolaca and Vilimoni Botitu scored tries for Fiji in the first half, two of which were converted by Bolaca, to give the Pacific Islanders a seemingly unassailable lead at half-time.

  • RESULTS

  • CUP FINAL 
    South Africa 20 Fiji 19

    THIRD 
    England 28 USA 7

    FIFTH 
    Samoa 19 New Zealand 17

    CHALLENGE TROPHY FINAL (9TH) 
    France 22 Scotland 19 

    OVERALL STANDINGS

    1 USA 145 
    2 Fiji 142 
    3 New Zealand 130 
    ​4 South Africa 121 
    5 England 107

Kurt-Lee Arendse and Angelo Davids cut the deficit to 19-10 before Tuimaba was sin-binned for tackling Davids without the ball to reduce Fiji to six men for two minutes. The Boks duly capitalised on their advantage, first through Ryan Oosthuizen, who scored a try which Selvyn Davids converted to pull to 19-17 with two minutes left.

And, with less than a minute remaining, they earned a penalty for offside which Davids dispatched as the clock ran out.

South Africa coach Neil Powell said the yellow card was a turning point but also hailed his players' never-say-die spirit.

"Going into that huddle at half-time was always going to be difficult," said the 40-year-old.

"There's obviously a bit of doubt and disbelief (that a comeback was possible). But I told the guys if we could score first, then we give ourselves a shot at winning. I don't know if it's the inexperience of the youngsters, but they hang on to every word you say and they believed."

Last year, it was Fiji who stunned Australia at the end with a try and conversion to win 28-22.

Fiji coach Gareth Baber was magnanimous in defeat. His side had lost star player Jerry Tuwai to a hamstring injury in their opener on Saturday, suffered two losses in three pool games before rebounding yesterday to win two knockout games, 19-5 over New Zealand in the last eight and then 26-12 over England.

"It was disappointing, but you can't have one hand on the trophy at half-time, you've got to be able to see it out - especially if you're up against a tough side," he said.

"We knew they would come back and create momentum in the second half, and we didn't deal with it. We deserve that at the end of it because they fought well."

Fiji, with 142 points, still closed the gap to series leaders United States (145), who lost 24-12 to South Africa in the semi-finals and 28-7 to England in the third-place play-off.

New Zealand are third on 130 while South Africa, on 121, occupy the fourth and final qualifying spot for the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Singapore, which attracted 57,000 fans over two days, was the eighth of 10 stops on the World Rugby Sevens Series. The next leg is in London (May 25-26) before the finale in Paris (June 1-2).

RESULTS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'From calamity to champions'. Print Edition | Subscribe