(PICTURE & TEXT VIA WORLD RUGBY)
South Africa are the 2016-17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions.
The Blizboks beat Scotland 15-5 in a tense final at the Stade Jean Bouin on Sunday evening but had earlier wrapped up the series after they beat New Zealand in the Cup semi-finals and England's earlier loss to Scotland at the same stage meant that they could not overtake the South Africans. Fiji, second in the standings before the tournament, exited at the quarter-final stage.
A remarkable season saw South Africa appear in eight of the nine finals to date, as they clinched the title for the first time since 2009.
Coach Neil Powell was relieved to finally secure the series: "It's been an incredible season so far. We wanted to finish strongly in this tournament and in London next week. This is for all the people in the system, not just the players, but the management back at home as well, for really working hard to make it happen.
"Everytime we put our jerseys on our backs we play for South Africa, for our family and our people back home that support us. It's special for us. We want to say thanks to them for supporting us all year."
Elsewhere, New Zealand claimed bronze in Paris after beating England 12-5 while Argentina won the Challenge Trophy after they beat Australia, 33-12. With just one tournament left, Wales captain Sam Cross leads the DHL Impact Player tracker ahead of England's Dan Norton and USA's Perry Baker who scored eight tries in Paris this weekend.
Scotland and South Africa met 42 times on the series before Sunday's final, with South Africa winning 36 of the encounters, however their previous match-up was on day one of this year’s HSBC Paris Sevens with the Scots winning, 19-12. Scotland fans would also have been hoping that their side could summon a similar performance to that which saw them win their first-ever Cup title in the final in London last year, where they beat the Blizboks 27-26.
Despite the 10-0 scoreline at the break, Scotland were close to the series champions for most of the first 7 minutes, but they were on the back foot after tries from Werner Kok and Dylan Sage. Scotland dug deep in the second period but their fate was sealed after George Horne was binned for a late tackle just after captain Philip Snyman touched down to seal the win.
"Hats off to the guys," said Snyman after the final.
"They were at the top of their game from the beginning in Dubai - we slipped up in Singapore but you can't be at your best all the time - but coming into this tournament we knew we had work to do before we clinched the series. We lost to Scotland on day one and we had to show a lot of character and guts to bounce back and that's exactly what they did."
With the home crowd still buzzing from Julian Candelon’s last match in a French sevens jersey, Scotland and England took the pitch for the first semi-final. Dan Norton came very close in the opening minute before Scotland went down the park to edge ahead with a well-taken score by Jamie Farndale. However, England regrouped and Dan Norton made sure with his second effort to level it at 5-5. Scotland persisted and a Scott Wight try on the stroke of half-time left it 12-5 at the break.
But it was dream-teamer Mark Robertson who added to his tries for the weekend with a superb kick-through to seal the win and despite another Dan Norton try that rubberstamped his hat-trick, Scotland were headed for the final. England’s loss meant they couldn't catch South Africa as series leaders and the Blitzboks became champions.
The sun, which was an intermittent visitor in the skies over the Stade Jean Bouin on Sunday, returned around the time South Africa won the title and, despite an opening try for New Zealand by Regan Ware, captain Philip Snyman and Branco du Preez ensured the Blitzboks were 12-5 ahead at the break. A Rosko Specman try after the break pushed the gap even further and with just minutes left he scored another to ensure a final appearance and put the gloss on a series win.
Scotland qualified for the first quarter-final of the day by virtue of the fact that they beat series leaders South Africa and Canada on day one in Paris and it was the Scots who opened the scoring against the Olympic champions with a well-taken try in the corner by Jamie Farndale. Errors from Fiji then allowed Scotland work the ball back up the pitch and release Mark Robertson to touch down and put the Scots 12-0 in front at the break.
Another try from Robertson in the second half put Scotland firmly in charge as they dominated possession before a second from Farndale in the corner put the game beyond doubt. Fiji were outplayed and out-thought by the men in dark blue who marched on to the semi-finals, winning 24-0.
Speaking afterwards, Mark Robertson was delighted with the result: “You know what sevens is like, we have some great individuals in the team, real pace, ball players and some big players. We are a tight group, we have only missed out on small margins, but hopefully we can carry it on.”
England took on USA in the second quarter-final decider and it was the tournament’s top try scorer Perry Baker that opened the scoring, finishing off a well worked try in the corner. England bounced back with an inside-outside try from reliable skipper Tom Mitchell and the captain was instrumental in their second score, as his deft flick help set up Charlie Hayter to leave it 14-5 to England at the break.
USA scored through Baker just after the resumption of play but their good work was undone moments later when Ollie Lyndsey-Hague intercepted an American pass and galloped over to extend the lead. A Dan Norton try put the game beyond reach for USA and England secured a semi-final berth, as it finished 26-12.
Unbeaten on day one, Samoa faced series leaders South Africa and it was a close first half with Cecil Afrika’s opening the scoring and Werner Kok bustling his way over after some industrious work from the Blitzboks against a tight Samoan defence. The second half continued in the same vein as the first – tight, physical with turnovers aplenty. However, Gordon Tietjens side couldn’t break down a resolute defence and it finished 12-0 with South Africa taking another step towards a series title.
Les tricolouers flew with pride around the Stade Jean Bouin as the atmosphere ramped up even further on Sunday morning when France ran out to take on New Zealand in the last quarter-final. Kiwi captain DJ Forbes opened the exchanges when he crossed midway through the first period, before Sione Molia touched down before the break. A bad-tempered second half saw French star Virimi Vakatawa yellow carded for striking as the All Black Sevens ground out a 14-0 victory.
Elsewhere, Japan have a battle on their hands to remain on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series next season as they remain bottom of the core teams on the standings. Russia lies in front of them on 27 points with just one tournament left to play next weekend when all 16 teams travel to Twickenham.