England beat series leader South Africa at Tokyo Sevens
England beat world series leader South Africa 21-14 in the Tokyo Sevens final on Sunday for its first tournament victory in more than two years.
Moreover, England rose above Australia in the standings into the top four, all of whom at the end of the series will automatically qualify for rugby’s return to the Olympics next year. There are two legs left, in Glasgow and London, next month.
“It wasn’t pretty rugby this weekend from a lot of teams but we carried on grafting,” England coach Simon Amor said after his team’s first tournament win since February 2013 in Wellington, New Zealand.
It rained at Prince Chichibu Stadium throughout a final in which South Africa made twice as many errors as England. South Africa would have scored first but Seabelo Senatla lost control of the ball when he dived short of the line.
Charlie Hayter put England on the board first, straightening the attack after Dan Norton broke on the outside.
South Africa’s reply was immediate and the finish brilliant, as Justin Geduld ran on to a pinpoint chip from Cecil Afrika. But it remained 7-7 at halftime only after England captain Tom Mitchell, the star of the show, outsprinted Senatla to the ball in the English in-goal.
Mitchell then scored 37 seconds into the new half. England forced a turnover from the kickoff, Mitchell spotted no South Africans covering behind, chipped, regathered, and crashed over between the posts.
Four minutes later, Mitchell forced a relieving penalty in front of his posts, forward Phil Burgess quick-tapped to himself and ran his fastest 80 meters ever for the decisive try and 21-7.
“I saw there was no one at home, and thought if I could make at least 10, 15 (meters), and someone else could be outside me ... but no one was there,” Burgess said. “Fortunately, I had enough in the tank left.”
Fresh reinforcements helped South Africa cut the gap to seven through Afrika, but England had time and the title in hand.
South Africa still leads the series by four points from Fiji, which was held out by the Africans 7-5 in the semifinals and finished third.
New Zealand remained third overall, nine points behind South Africa. After featuring in four straight finals, the Kiwis won the plate. They were undone in the quarterfinals, overhauled by Canada 19-15 for the first time in 29 matches.
Canada couldn’t pull off another comeback against England in the semfinals, falling 14-5.