Photo: World Rugby
South Africa staged an incredible comeback to win the Los Angeles Sevens with a thrilling 29-24 extra-time victory over Olympic Champions Fiji.
It was a repeat of the final from the previous Sydney leg of this year’s World Series Sevens series, but this time it was South Africa who came out top thanks to an extra time try from Sakoyisa Makata after the scores had finished level at full time 24-24.
First Chris Dry dotted down for his 97th try in a Blitzboks jersey to cut the lead to seven points, but only 27 seconds left. The Blitzboks declined the conversion in order to save time.
No problem. Branco du Preez, who just came onto the field as a replacement, delivered the perfect kick-off and the ball was won back. A last attack by the Blitzboks saw Du Preez dotting down with the final hooter a distant memory.
South Africa’s most experienced player of all time (in his 74th tournament and 374th match) calmly dissected the Dignity Health Sports Park poles with his 423rd conversion (Blitzboks all-time record) to equal the scores at 24-24.
Up came extra time and a final surge, with Fiji down to six men after a high tackle on JC Pretorius in the lead-up to Du Preez’s try.
As for most of the tournament, the team’s bench delivered big time as first Muller du Plessis, then Dry and finally Kurt-Lee Arendse worked Makata into space.
The 22-year-old, used sparingly by Powell earlier in the day, had all the energy needed in his legs to sprint away and score the sudden death try that would seal one of the biggest comebacks yet to be seen in the World Series. Hollywood indeed.
Fiji started the match like a house on fire and scored three tries (two of them converted) in the opening five minutes to jump into a 19-0 lead. The Blitzboks were guilty of not completing tackles and Fiji run from deep to get those five pointers from long range.
Stedman Gans pulled one back just before the half-time buzzer and Selvyn Davids converted to cut the deficit to 12 points at the break, laying the foundation for the most exciting second half in a long while in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Davids scored soon himself after the restart but pulled his conversion before Fiji struck again with a try in the 11th minute.
This left the Blitzboks trailing by 12 with three minutes to play. A comeback of epic proportions was needed. And delivered.
Fiji started strong with three unanswered tries in the first five minutes. But the Blitzboks clawed back the scoreline and equalised with a converted try by Branco Du Preez in the final minute of normal time.
The bronze medal was claimed by series leaders New Zealand who achieved their fourth podium finish in five rounds, following gold in Cape Town and Hamilton and silver in Dubai. The All Blacks Sevens overcame their antipodean rivals Australia 21-19 in a tightly contested bronze medal match.
The results in Los Angeles see New Zealand maintain their position at the top of the standings at the halfway mark of the series. The All Blacks Sevens are on 93 points but the margin of their lead has been cut to just four points with South Africa hot on their heels on 89 in second place and Fiji a further 17 points behind in third.