Paris Sevens: South Africa win World Series title in dramatic finale

PARIS, France (CNN) – After six months, ten tournaments and over 2,700 tries, the men’s Sevens World Series title was decided by the final game in Paris.

South Africa, who went into the tournament seven points adrift of Fiji, faced England in the last match of the season knowing a win would see them take the spoils.

In a rain-soaked Stade Jean-Bouin on Sunday, the Blitzboks duly delivered — winning the Cup Final 24-14 and successfully defending their championship crown.

It was a cruel blow for Fiji, who suffered a shock defeat to England in the quarterfinals and had to watch on in Paris as their Series lead slipped away, despite having won five of the previous six tournaments.

Tries from Werner Kok, Ryan Oosthuizen and Dewald Human saw the Blitzboks come from behind and achieve a remarkable double — something the players could only have dreamed of at the start of the weekend.

“At the beginning of the tournament we said that we’re not going to focus on the results, we want to go out and play some fantastic rugby and it’s out of our hands — we can only control the controllable,” said South Africa captain Phil Snyman.

“I still can’t believe we managed to crawl [it] back, but all honor to God and all honor to the team, I think they played phenomenal rugby.”

The conclusion to the season was full of twists and turns as South Africa’s fairytale ending was almost dashed on a number of occasions.

Neil Powell’s men lost their opening game to Scotland and would have seen their title bid ended were it not for a missed conversion by Spain in the final play of the quarterfinal clash.

But fate was to be on the side of the South Africans.

“Anything can happen in Sevens,” Snyman told CNN.

“If Spain had kicked that conversion, then we would have been out of it. You have to fight all the way and never give up. Luckily today the ball went our way.”

South Africa hadn’t won a tournament since the first outing of the season in Dubai. In the eight tournaments between then and Paris, they secured three bronze and three silver medal finishes, a consistency that’s helped them stay in contention throughout the season.

Fiji, however, will rue their slow start in the opening three tournaments as they ended just two points shy of their rivals.

At the end of the women’s competition, there were mixed feelings for Australia who, despite having the series wrapped up ahead of Sunday’s Final, went on to lose that game 33-7 to rivals New Zealand.

The overwhelming feeling, however, will be one of relief, as twice in Paris they had to come back from behind in order to secure their Series win — first against Fiji, and then again against France where a late, length-of-the-field try sent them into Sunday’s showpiece.

“I guess it’s a bit bittersweet when you don’t come away with the win in that last one,” Charlotte Caslick, who was crowned DHL Impact Player of the Year in Paris, told CNN.

“I’m really proud of the girls. We had some less experienced players out there who got a taste of getting their first big dance under their belts.

“Saturday was like two finals in a row … we had to win them to get our World Series title.”

Australia’s season started strongly, where a victory in Dubai was followed by becoming the first team to go a whole tournament without conceding a single point in Sydney.

It’s also been a season that’s seen huge change off the field as the women’s team were granted an equal starting salary to the men.

Australia have gone toe-to-toe with New Zealand throughout the season, and now have two World Series titles to the Black Ferns’ four. In the Commonwealth Games, however, it was their rivals who emerged triumphant — a game Caslick says won’t be easily forgotten by rugby fans.

“That game against New Zealand I think will be one for the history books,” she says. “It was such a great advertizement for our sport — in Australia, everyone just really loved it.”

Both male and female players now have just over a month to recuperate before the Sevens World Cup, which takes place in San Francisco from July 20-22.

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