Ryno Benjamin’s late try edged South Africa to a dramatic 19-12 win over England in the opening leg of the new IRB World Sevens Series in Dubai on Saturday.
While Benjamin’s name appears on the scoresheet, he owed plenty to Gio Aplon who sprinted clear from his own 22 after South Africa won a crucial turnover and outpaced the English cover before passing while he was over the try line.
The conversion was added by captain Mzwandile Stick whose kicking earlier in the day had kept South Africa in the competition.
His side were on the very brink of going out to Fiji in the semi-finals before he converted, with the very last kick of the second half, Rupeni Nasiga’s try from a tricky angle to make the score 7-7 and take the match into extra time.
Stick again showed great coolness under pressure to drop kick the 40m penalty which gave South Africa a 10-7 success.
His side needed all of the character they showed against Fiji to then overcome England who trailed 12-0 at the break after Robert Ebersohn ghosted through from close range for South Africa’s first try and Mpho Mbiyozo twisted out of a tackle on the line for try No. 2.
England stepped up a gear after the break and pulled back an unconverted try when Tom Biggs backed himself to go round the outside of the South African defense.
And Ben Ryan’s side then took immediate advantage of the yellow carding of Paul Delport for his team’s persistent infringing as Micky Young drifted through a gap on the right for a score he converted to level the match. England were pressing hard in the final seconds before they lost the ball and Aplon’s explosive burst changed the course of the match. South Africa coach Paul Treu said: “I’m very pleased for the players, particularly the new guys in the squad who now know what it is like to win a tournament.
England were left to reflect on what might have been as well as a growing injury list which clearly hindered their hopes. Captain Ollie Phillips and Uche Oduoza both went off in the first half with injuries while Ben Gollings, the sport’s world record points scorer, did not feature in the tournament because of a calf problem.
England had earlier defeated world series champions New Zealand 21-19 in the semi-finals with tries from Rob Vickerman, Phillips and Josua Drauniniu.