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Jittery Blitzboks survive to seal Cup quarter-final spot
- Updated: February 6, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
The Blitzboks left it late but managed to book their place in the Cup quarter-finals of the IRB Seven Series in Wellington on Friday.
Coach Neil Powell’s men blew hot and cold on the first day of the New Zealand leg of the sevens rugby series, going down 5-22 to the French in their opening match.
They bounced back to beat Japan 24-7 but the fact that a burgeoning United States side had thrashed Japan (40-5) and France (38-7) meant that the Blitzboks not only had to beat the US in their final pool game but also make sure that they had a winning margin of four points or more to ensure qualification.
In the end they got over the line to the tune of 26-14 after things were all squared on 14-14 at the half-time break.
But coach Powell will not have been impressed by the sloppiness showed by the men in green and gold with way too many missed tackles and knock-ons for his liking.
It was a missed tackle in the first minute that saw US speedster Perry Baker go over under the uprights and Madison Hughes converted for the 7-0 lead.
Veteran Frankie Horne had the Blitzboks level from the kick-off though as he set up SA’s own speedster Seabelo Senatla to also cross under the sticks and Branco du Preez converted.
It was Du Preez who then broke away down the right flank before cutting in and allowing the powerful Kwagga Smith to score down the middle for an easy conversion (14-7).
But on the stroke of halftime it was that man Baker, making his sevens debut this season, who again who again took advantage of some fumbling tackles by the Blitzboks and ducked under the uprights for the second time in the half.
The second half saw veteran Cecil Afrika wrestling his way over to the left of the poles for a try only given after being referred to the video referee. Du Preez converted and the Blitzboks had a seven point cushion.
There were still some more jitters by the Blitzboks with Senatla knocking on when it seemed he would have had a clear run-in from the half-way line.
SA had their second heel against the head but more sloppy passing saw the opportunity go begging.
The nerves were finally calmed with a minute to go, US conceding a penalty down the left and from a well-worked set piece move Smith was freed up and crashed over for his second after doing a whole heap of work by breaking a few tackles and finally stepping inside to go over.
The conversion was missed but the 12-point victory margin saw the Blitzboks live to fight another day as they bid to win a successive third leg of the 2014/15 series after victories in Dubai and Port Elizabeth late last year.
Next up for the Blitzboks is a 3.10am (SA time) quarter-final clash against Kenya. The other quarters feature a ‘neighbourly’ clash between hosts New Zealand and Australia, the US play Scotland and Fiji take on England.