The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title was decided in dramatic fashion after South Africa beat England 24-14 in the Paris final to clinch the gold medal and retain their crown.
In one of the most competitive years in the history of the series, the title went down to the very last match as South Africa required a tournament victory to overtake Fiji in the series standings.
South Africa finished the series on top with 182 points, followed by Fiji who took silver with 180 and New Zealand on 150 after claiming the bronze medal in Paris with a 38-5 victory over Canada in the third-place play-off.
Last year’s series champions, South Africa edged past Spain 15-10 in the quarter-final with a try in the fifth minute of overtime by Justin Deguld, after the scores were tied 10-10 at the end of regular time. The South African Blitzboks then found their stride in the semi-final with a comprehensive 24-12 victory over New Zealand thanks to a pair of tries from the impressive 23-year-old Dewald Human, who only made his debut two months ago in Hong Kong.
Human was again in try-scoring form against England and was delighted to be voted Player of the Final, saying: “It’s been a fantastic experience here in Paris. I backed myself and just enjoyed every minute on the field. We stuck to the game plan and are very happy with the win.”
South Africa captain Philip Snyman added: “We wanted to go out and play some fantastic rugby and focus on what we could control. The guys played phenomenal rugby and all credit to the team. We just did the simple stuff and played with smiles on our faces. It’s an amazing feeling representing such an amazing country and the people back home never stopped believing in us and supporting us.”
Fiji missed the chance to secure the title earlier in the day as they were defeated 19-17 by a spirited England team in a breath-taking quarter-final. England captain Tom Mitchell finished off a 26-pass move to score in the dying seconds of the match and bring an end to Fiji’s recent dominance, which has seen them win the previous four rounds of the series.
Fiji recovered to beat Ireland 38-5 and USA 28-7 to finish fifth in Paris and put the pressure on South Africa going into the final but ultimately it was not enough and the Fijians were forced to settle for series silver, despite winning five of the 10 rounds.
England produced another powerful performance in the semi-final with a convincing 26-12 victory over Canada to reach their first final of the 2017-18 series, but they were unable to cope with the Blitzboks in the final as the men from South Africa ran out winners in front of a noisy Paris crowd.
In the women’s competition, New Zealand finished in style with a convincing 33-7 win over rivals Australia in the final in Paris to take the gold medal.
Both teams had reason to celebrate at the final whistle as the silver medal in Paris means Australia secure the overall series crown by virtue of their consistency across the series, finishing on the podium in each of the five rounds. Australia finished the series with 92 points, ahead of New Zealand on 90.
Hosts France claimed the series bronze medal despite being defeated 17-10 by Canada in the third-place play-off match.
All attention now turns to the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco from July 20-22, where 24 men’s and 16 women’s teams will battle it out to become world champions over three days of exciting action.