After six days of exciting competition in Stellenbosch, South Africa, the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 came to a climax at Markötter Stadium on Sunday with South Africa women and Tonga men being crowned overall tournament champions.
South Africa women captured back-to-back gold medals with a slim 17-14 victory over Belgium thanks to a final minute try by Elizabatha Janse van Rensburg to officially earn core status on the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024.
In the men’s competition, Belgium shocked the opening tournament champions to lift the second event cup trophy by winning the final 28-26, however it was Tonga that qualified for the four-team play-off at HSBC London Sevens on 20-21 May based on aggregate points over the two events.
In the bronze medal matches, China women defeated Czechia 31-15 and Chile won 19-12 over Germany.
WOMEN’S DAY THREE RECAP:
A hat-trick of tries from tournament two’s leading try scorer Cécile Blondiau gave Belgium a 22-5 victory over China in the opening semi-final to secure a second consecutive cup final appearance for her side.
In the second semi-final, South Africa led Czechia 5-0 at half-time through a try by Ayanda Malinga. The host nation showed their class in the second half, with Nadine Roos, Simamkele Namba, and Zintle Mpupha adding their names onto the scoresheet to give the winners from the opening round a 24-0 win to meet Belgium in the cup final.
Belgium went into the final needing to beat South Africa by 44 points or more in order to be crowned the overall World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winners. South Africa, however, were determined to make it a clean sweep of championships in front of their home supporters.
Ayanda Malinga opened the scoring for the home team in the first minute, followed by another by Sizophila Solontsi to give them a 12-0 lead at half-time.
Belgium took the lead for the first time after a brace by the exceptional Blondiau in the second half, making her the top try scorer of the weekend with 12 tries. With a minute left to play, South Africa dug deep to get the winning try courtesy of Janse van Rensburg to emerge victorious 17-14.
With the back-to-back tournament wins, South Africa has qualified for the World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 as the 12th and final core team.
South Africa captain Mathrin Simmers said: “There are no words to describe how we feel right now. We’re just so happy. The girls really showed some character and they fought in the last game. We’re very excited that we’ll be playing in the World Rugby Sevens Series. That’s where we want to play, against the world’s best.”
In the bronze medal match, China overpowered Czechia 31-15, while Poland defeated Hong Kong China 24-10 in the fifth place playoff.
Colombia blanked Paraguay 24-0 in the seventh place match, Thailand defeated Madagascar 22-14 for ninth place and Mexico were bested 24-10 by Papua New Guinea in the 11th place play-off.
MEN’S DAY THREE RECAP:
Germany and Tonga, cup finalists from round one, met again in a knockout fixture, this time in the semi-final. Philip Gleitze from Germany opened the scoring for the Europeans, going over the whitewash in the opening minute, however Tonga replied with three quick scores to lead the match 19-7 at half-time.
Germany’s three tries in the second half were not enough to defeat the high-flying Tongans, who ultimately won 33-26. With the semi-final victory, Tonga was crowned the overall World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 winners based on aggregate points, having collected the maximum on offer in the opening week.
Belgium were in full control of semi-final two in the opening seven minutes of the match, scoring three times to give them a comfortable 17-0 lead over Chile. Chile scored twice in the second half but ran out of time and suffered a 17-14 defeat.
Tonga were hoping to make it two championship wins, but their party was spoiled by a Belgium side that were looking for redemption after the Pacific Islanders defeated them in the semi-final of the opening event last week.
Belgium came out strong in the opening half to lead 21-7 at the break. A missed conversion from Tonga’s Atieli Pakalani in the last minute of the match proved to be the difference between the two teams. 28-26 was the final score, making Belgium the champions of the second event.
Belgium captain Gaspard Lalli said: “We were really focused in the final and believed that something could happen for us. Everything went on our side today, even when they (Tonga) came back, we still managed to get the last action and win. I’m happy that Tonga won the series, but I’m very proud of my team that all the hard work we put in paid off.”
Tonga’s Atieli Pakalani said: “Unfortunately we came short in the last final, but I’m still proud of the boys and the efforts that they put in over the last two weeks. Our main goal was to try and qualify for London and we’ve done that. Credit to the boys, even though we came up short against Belgium. We’ll go back home and review our games from the past two weeks and look at the things we can improve going into London next month.”
HSBC LONDON SEVENS PLAY-OFF:
Following the penultimate event in Toulouse, the 15th ranked men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series team will be relegated while the 12th through 14th ranked teams, along with the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 champions Tonga, will compete in a four-team play-off in London on 20-21 May for the 12th and final position on the 2024 Series.
As it stands, Japan (16 points) hold the lowest ranking among core teams but the race to avoid the relegation play-off took another twist with Uruguay (49 points) returning to 11th after their run to the Cup quarter-finals in Singapore. Uruguay, Spain (48), Kenya (37), Canada (24) and Japan will all be fervently trying to accumulate points in Toulouse on 12-14 May.
SOURCE: WORLD RUGBY/PACNEWS