South Africa will play for a rugby sevens medal as the code makes its debut at the Rio Olympics… but the colour of that medal definitely won’t be what they were dreaming for.
That, after they went down 5-7 to Great Britain in a tension-filled semi-final at the Deodoro Stadium on Thursday.
South Africa had led 5-0 at halftime through an unconverted captain’s try by Kyle Brown. But a minute after halftime Great Britain struck back as speedster Dan Norton stepped inside Dylan Sage to go over the posts untouched.
The try was converted by captain Tom Mitchell for a 7-5 lead and that’s the way it stood although it could have gone either way.
It wasn’t South Africa’s best performance of the Games as a few missed tackles, knock-ons and forward passes meant they never played with the freedom that marked some of their earlier Games.
Great Britain will now go on to play Fiji in Friday night’s final. South Africa are left sitting in last-chance saloon with a match against Japan.
In the earlier semi-final clash of the Pacific Islanders, Fiji had earlier proved too strong for tournament minnows Japan and bullied their way through to the final with a relatively easy 20-5 victory.
For South Africa to add a bronze to their three silvers (two swimming and rowing) at these Games they’ll have to overcome a tenacious Japan.
And do we have to mention that word Japan again after what happened at the 15-man code Rugby World Cup last year?
Story of the match was that Brown scored with less than two minutes gone after an extended period of attack had ground to a halt in the right corner. But the ball eventually spilt lose and Brown pinned his ears back and a diagonal run into the left hand corner saw him going over.
Africa missed the conversion, which in the context of a low-scoring semi, could have been crucial.
Roscoe Specimen then brought the crowd to their feet with a mazy run before a wayward pass drift into touch and at the other end it was Great Britain’s No8 James Davies who nearly went all the way.
Halfway came and went and it was under a minute before Norton’s pace saw Great Britain ahead.
South Africa threw everything into attack with some concerted play in the final minutes and two penalties one left, one right, gave them options but the British defence held firm.
It seemed South Africa had finally cracked the defensive code when they had men out left but a long looping pass was deemed forward and possession turned over.
A scrum, followed by a reset scrum saw the Brits cleverly hold on to possession before booting out.
That gave SA a final chance at the lineout but the ball went forward in the ensuing ruck, was overturned and finally hoofed out to break South African hearts.
Afterwards, a disappointed coach Neil Powell made no excuses: ‘Going into an Olympic semi-final you always know it’s going to be a dogfight and especially in the first half with the wind behind us I don’t think we made use of all our opportunites.
‘And in knock-out stages you don’t get that many opportunities so its crucial that you have to use them.
‘So it’s very disappointing at not getting the chance to play in the gold-medal match but now we must pick ourselves up for the bronze medal play-off. Japan are playing some very good rugby and definitely won’t give it to us on a plate.’
Picture of Brown courtesy of Getty Images