South Africa and Tonga crowned champions at World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series

Photo: World Rugby

South Africa women and Tonga men took one step closer towards promotion by winning the opening tournament of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 on Saturday at Markötter Stadium.

Following three days of energy-sapping action in Stellenbosch, hosts South Africa dug deep to turn in an impressive performance in the women’s final, coming from behind to beat Belgium 17-10 in front of their home supporters.

In the men’s final, Tonga’s offensive firepower proved too strong for Germany as they scored four tries in their 26-14 victory to close out the event.

With one tournament remaining in the Challenger Series, attention now shifts to the second event on 28-30 April to decide the aggregate men’s and women’s champions.

WOMEN’S DAY THREE RECAP:

Hosts South Africa scored the only try in the first semi-final to book a place in the final of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 when Simamkele Namba crossed the whitewash, beating China 5-0.

In the second women’s semi-final decider, Belgium outplayed a confident Poland team on their way to their first ever Challenger Series final. Belgium found themselves trailing 14-5 at the half-time mark against the 2022 finalists, however they managed to find another gear in the second half to edge their European rivals 24-19.

In the final, Belgium scored two quick tries in the opening four minutes against South Africa, who managed to get one back through Ayanda Malinga to trail 10-5 at half-time. But with a home ground advantage and passionate fans behind them, South Africa dug deep in the second half, scoring twice to win a hard-fought match.

South Africa’s captain, Mathrin Simmers said: “I’m very happy with the performance of the girls. We started a bit slow, but we pulled through at the end of it. We were trailing at half-time but I just told them to stick to the processes, relax and focus on what we needed to do and stay in the moment.

“We have a lot of confidence going into the second leg of the tournament, but for us it’s just about going back to zero and starting all over again. We’ll go through all the processes and the systems we do in training and go into the next leg of the tournament.”

In the bronze final, China narrowly defeated Poland 14-10, while Czechia were victorious 34-10 over Thailand in the fifth place play-off. Madagascar narrowly defeated Colombia 14-12 in the seventh place play-off, while Papua New Guinea defeated Paraguay 10-5 in the 11th place play-off.

The ultimate prize at stake for the tournament winners in the women’s competition, which will be decided on aggregate points over the two events, is promotion to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2024 as the 12th and final team.

MEN’S DAY THREE RECAP:                             

Two tries from Bastian van der Bosch helped Germany become the first nation to reach the men’s final at this year’s World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series. A try from Belgium’s Martin Marenne in the second half proved to be not enough for the Belgians as they went down 19-5 to the Germans.

Tonga made sure of their place in the men’s final by beating Hong Kong China 33-0 in the second men’s semi-final. Hong Kong China were punished for their lack of discipline which saw them receive two yellow cards to give Tonga the upper hand throughout the match.

Later in the day, Belgium and Hong Kong China went head-to-head in a thrilling men’s bronze final, which was forced into extra-time with the teams tied 21-21 at full-time. It was the golden-point try from Hong Kong China’s Max Denmark in the second half of extra-time that separated the two teams to his side the win.

In the men’s final, Tonga ran in four tries against Germany to be named champions in the opening round of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023. Soni Asi, John Tapueluelu, Kyren Taumoefolau and Tevita Manukea all scored to give the Tongans a 26-14 win over Germany.

Reflecting on their historic win, Tonga captain Sione Tupou said: “This win means the world to us. This is a reward for all the hardships that we’ve been through. This win is for the future generation in Tonga.

“The second week of the Challenger Series is going to be tough for us because now everyone will come after the champions, but we trust in the team that we have and the positive spirit that we carry.”

In the fifth place play-off, Uganda defeated Italy 19-15 while Chile blanked Brazil 41-0 in the seventh place decider. Zimbabwe defeated Papua New Guinea 40-17 for ninth place and Jamaica lost to Korea 12-5 in the 11th place play-off.

The winner of the men’s competition, which will also be decided on aggregate points over the two events, will enter a four-team play-off at the HSBC London Sevens in May together with the teams placed 12th to 14th after 10 rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023. The winner of the play-off will achieve the coveted Sevens World Series 2024 status. 

POOLS CONFIRMED FOR SECOND TOURNAMENT

The second and final event of the Challenger Series is scheduled to take place on 28-30 April at the same venue in Stellenbosch, and the pools have been confirmed.

Opening tournament winners South Africa women will be looking to go for back-to-back gold and receive the coveted qualification to the Sevens World Series in 2024. They headline Pool D and are joined by Thailand, Madagascar and Paraguay.

First round finalists Belgium have been drawn against Czechia, Colombia and Papua New Guinea in Pool E, while Pool F features China, Poland, Hong Kong China and Mexico.

The men’s competition will see opening tournament champions Tonga joined by Italy, Chile and Jamaica in Pool A. Runners-up Germany have been pitted against Uganda, Brazil and Korea in Pool B while in Pool C, Hong Kong China, Belgium, Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea will battle it out for a spot in the quarter-final.

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