Despite a courageous fight back in the second half, which saw them scoring three tries, the Springboks Sevens were outplayed by Fiji who deservedly won their first Dubai Sevens title on Saturday evening. They beat South Africa 29-17 in an absorbing final after leading 19-0 at halftime.
Fiji were the odds on crowd favourites to lift the cup they have never managed to win in 14 attempts after their thrilling 44-0 semifinal win over New Zealand.
However, they were made to work for their success, especially in the second half, when a depleted but determined South Africa simply refused to give up.
Injuries ruled out a trio of South African players - Frankie Horne, Stephan Dippenaar and Jamba Ulengo – and they were made to play for two minutes without Justin Geduld after he was yellow carded for an alleged deliberate knock down of the ball when a rampant Fiji were on the attack.
Benito Masilevu scored twice and when Saiminosi Viriviri crossed for their third try, Fiji were able to go into halftime with a commanding 19-0 lead.
The Springbok Sevens, who won all their matches on their way to the Cup final, made fewer errors in the second half and finally managed to string a few moves together. They grew in confidence and this allowed Sampie Mastriet, Chris Dry and Cheslin Kolbe to cross the try line.
Emosi Mulevoro scored Fiji’s fifth try to put the match out of reach of South Africa and in doing so capped a very successful weekend for the islanders.
Neil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, said Fiji deserved their victory: “Fiji were the better team and deserved to win. They started very positively, put us under huge pressure and really used their opportunities well.”
Powell added he was very pleased how his team responded in the second half:
“We knew we had to score first after the restart, gain some momentum and to put them under pressure. We tried our best but they proved too strong in the end. I am very proud of the boys and now we are looking forward to build on this performance next week at home in Port Elizabeth,” said Powell.
The Springbok Sevens scored a convincing 26-12 win over England to book a place in the final against Fiji, who earlier routed New Zealand 44-0 in an awesome display of attacking Sevens rugby.
Mike Ellery scored from the kick off to put England in front. Cecil Afrika gave South Africa a slender lead with his try which was converted by du Preez. Justin Geduld then stretched South Africa’s lead to 14-5 after a quick penalty tap.
The Springbok Sevens then lost Frankie Horne with a leg injury after the restart and perhaps lost their concentration also, which allowed Tom Mitchell to race through for England second try.
Replacement Werner Kok was on hand to receive a quick penalty from Afrika and he dotted down in the corner for his third try of the tournament.
South Africa found an extra gear thanks to their fresh substitutes.
One of the replacements, Cheslin Kolbe, showed his strength when he wrestled the ball from a defender before feeding Chris Dry to score.
In their quarterfinal clash, a brilliant individual try by Branco du Preez secured a 21-12 victory for South Africa over Kenya who are coached by Paul Treu, the former Springbok Sevens coach.
South Africa raced into a 14-o lead at halftime thanks to tries from speedster Mastriet and veteran Horne.
However, Kenya hit back and reduced the deficit to just two points after Felix Ayange and Oscar Ayoli had dotted down.
With Kenya growing stronger and frustrating South Africa with strong defence, Du Preez produced a moment of magic to step his way through several tackles to score the decisive try.
South Africa (34 points) climbed to third place on the World Series standings, five points behind leaders New Zealand and just one behind second-placed England.
The 16 teams now travel on Monday to South Africa for Round 3, the Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens next weekend in Port Elizabeth.
The main results in Dubai on Saturday are:
Cup Final: Fiji 29, South Africa 17
Third place: New Zealand 17, England 14
Plate Final: Argentina 21, Wales 5
Bowl Final: Australia 17, Portugal 12
Shield Final: France 28, Spain 17
The World Series standings after Round 2:
1. New Zealand 39
2. Fiji 35
3. South Africa 34
4. England 32
5. Australia 27