LAS VEGAS (AP) — South Africa rallied to beat Fiji 19-12 in a wind-swept final to the Las Vegas Sevens on Sunday to claim their fourth title from five rounds of this season's World Rugby Sevens Series.
Olympic champions and defending title-holders Fiji scored first to lead 5-0 before the Blitzboks clicked into gear and scored 19 unanswered points to lead 19-5 with three minutes remaining. Fiji hit back with a late try and wide-angled conversion to cut the lead to seven points but time ran out before it could achieve a tying score.
South Africa has now taken an almost unassailable 24-point lead on World Series standings after tournament wins in Dubai, Wellington, Sydney and Las Vegas. It failed only to win its home tournament in Cape Town, where it was beaten by England in the final, and now has 107 championship points while Fiji has 81, New Zealand 71 and Australia and the United States have 52.
"Without a doubt this tournament was the most difficult one of them all," South Africa captain Philip Snyman said. "Hats off to the guys. I think in difficult conditions they really played well and really kept composure towards the end."
Fiji started the match playing into the teeth of an almost gale-force wind which had a significant influence on the final.
After winning back-to-back penalties which put them into the attack, Fiji appeared to have scored through Jerry Tuwai but the South African defense pulled off a miraculous save by dispossessing Tuwai over the goal line.
Masivesi Dakuwaqa then matched the feat for Fiji, stealing the ball from Ruhan Nel and wading through tackles to score.
Fiji was reduced to six men when Vatemo Ravouvou was sin-binned in the fifth minute for a no-arms tackle on Nel and South Africa quickly capitalized with its first try. The wind played a part in the score when it caught Roscoe Speckman's long cross-field pass and carried the ball several meters forward.
The Fiji players hesitated, expecting the referee to call a forward pass but he determined the ball had gone back from the hands and been carried forward by the wind.
Cecil Afrika reacted quickly, recovering the loose ball and scoring under the posts, converting his own try for a 7-5 lead at halftime.
South Africa quashed any immediate threat of a Fiji rally with a strong start to the second half. Speckman danced through a narrow gap in the Fiji defense and turned the ball infield to Chris Dry, who scored for a 14-5 lead. Speckman was then rewarded for a match-winning performance with his own try, running almost 60 meters after an intercept.
Waisea Nacuqu's late try reduced Fiji's deficit, but any chance of a comeback was snuffed out when Sevuloni Mocenacagi was sent off for a dangerous tackle from the restart.
South Africa and Fiji had come from behind to win semifinals Sunday. Fiji conceded two early tries including a penalty try to trail New Zealand 14-0 before scoring 19 unanswered points to win 19-14. South Africa trailed the U.S. 12-0, rallied to lead 15-12 then fell behind again 17-15 before a late try by Dylan Sage clinched their final berth.
The U.S. beat New Zealand 19-15 to take third place. England beat Australia 10-7 for fifth.
The series' next leg begins in Vancouver, Canada on Saturday, before tournaments in Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London.