Starmers: Incredible drama in South Africa
No season has even been like this before. It simply is extraordinary what we are witnessing in the first season where Sevens can officially say it is an Olympic sport.
Once again this weekend in Port Elizabeth you couldn’t predict who was going to win any match. Okay, in the final with New Zealand facing France, it was going to happen, but not just because New Zealand proved to be the best but the semi final was crucial for Frederic Pomarel’s side.
New Zealand’s semi final was an enthralling encounter with the hosts South Africa in a repeat of last year’s final, but for France, Renaud Delmas scored a try in the dying seconds of normal time to put the match into sudden death extra time against Argentina.
Then, you had incredible drama, and a demonstration of incredible fitness that unsurprisingly sapped most of the players’ energy. First Argentina missed a drop goal penalty, before Terry Bouhraoua was successful, but a 24-minute match makes all the difference when it comes to a 20-minute final.
New Zealand's victory was hugely important, especially moving into their home tournament, the fourth round of the Series in Wellington. I think they certainly knew South Africa was one of their wonderful places to play with eight out of 13 victories before this one, and they knew if they won a fourth in a row, it would be a record of Cup wins in one single country, tremendous.
But they have in the quartet of Mikkelson, Raikabula, Forbes and Cama the nucleus of a wonderful side. For Gordon Tietjens he can bring in new players and test them, Ben Lam made a big impact, Kurt Baker came in and ended top try scorer, coming away from 15s and that was a plus for him. Lahmert too coming into this side and showing they will have a strong season.
But seeing how close it was means they will not win every tournament this year. New Zealand didn’t come through victorious in every game, they lost to Fiji in the pool, and were run very close by the hosts. But what is so pleasing this season, is the upsides and the fact we are talking positively about all the teams.
France in only their third Cup final, and despite the heavy defeat, it won’t be long before we see them in one again. Argentina too who are now challenging in the top echelon, and Portugal, Wales consistently now having won two consecutive Plates, and beating Fiji en route to both, and USA reaching the Cup quarter finals again. Just incredible.
SA Sevens highlights
It was disappointing in the end for the hosts but a very close call in the semi final where they lost 12-5 against New Zealand. Maybe if Cecil Afrika had been fully fit then they might have turned it over, but they were still a delight to watch and I was impressed with Frankie Horne who captained the side in Kyle Brown's absence.
For them missing Brown and Branco du Preez, as with England who missed Chris Cracknell and Mat Turner, these players are world class. If you miss them, which New Zealand didn't with their quartet, then it is hard, but they will be back and there will still be some surprises to come this season.
But with South Africa in the Bowl in Dubai, and England again in the bottom eight for a third successive tournament, it means these pools will be so uncertain again in Wellington yet more fascinating pools. All the new core teams are competitive at this level which is the reason why we went to 15, not 12, core sides.
Normally you say England, South Africa and Australia would be up there with New Zealand and Fiji, but it is changing over and the level in Sevens is just going up. It is particularly exciting to see the world sevens standard is going up dramatically through what we used to call the minnows.