Blitzboks stun Fiji with incredible comeback to win LA Sevens

Branco du Preez (Getty Images)
Branco du Preez (Getty Images)

Cape Town - The Springbok Sevens team scored twice in the last minute of one of the most dramatic finals ever to first force extra time and then claimed a sudden death try winner to beat Fiji 29-24 at the LA Sevens at Dignity Health Sports Park in Los Angeles on Sunday.

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The dramatic finish was typical of the South African side who came from behind in spectacular fashion against Ireland on Saturday and in the Cup quarters against the USA earlier in the day as well.

With less than a minute left and trailing by 12 points, few would imagine replacement prop Sako Makata running in to score the winner (breaking a two match losing streak against Fiji, who edged the Blitzboks 12-10 in the Sydney final last month).

No problem, this is Hollywood country after all and the same Blitzboks spirit that overhauled Fiji in Singapore last year (from 0-19 down to win 20-19) is still alive and well in coach Neil Powell's charges.

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 on to 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, sparingly used by coach Neil 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.

The Blitzboks eased into the final on the back of an impressive 17-0 win over New Zealand in the semi-finals. In what was almost a reverse of what was to come later, Angelo Davids sprinted in from 70 meters to score straight from the kick-off and got another four minutes later to give his team a handy 10-0 lead at the break.

In a match between the top two sides on the log, the margins were always going to be tight and only one more try was scored in the second half, with Werner Kok racing away down the touchline for a converted score.

The comeback theme started earlier on Sunday, against the USA in the Cup quarter-finals. No, even earlier.

After pulling back two scores against Ireland on Saturday for a dramatic 19-19 draw in their pool match, the Blitzboks again fell behind against the hosts, fuelling the ferocious support from the Californian crowd. (match report here).

This time, Carlin Isles scored his 201st and 202nd tries in the World Series, on both occasions outflanking the SA defence with his great speed.

But Ryan Oosthuizen pulled one back before the buzzer already and when JC Pretorius raced in for their second try of the match, Selvyn Davids kicked them ahead with a minute to play.

The victory means that South Africa will travel to Vancouver for next weekend's Canada Sevens only four points behind New Zealand on the overall World Series log.

- SA Rugby
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