Watched on by recently-departed coach Ben Ryan, the 2016 Olympic champions and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series holders were outgunned during a 26-14 final defeat. The Sevens Stadium witnessed an exhibition of electric finishing as the 2016/17 season got under way, from which the dominant side emerged with the trophy.
Tries from fly-half Cecil Afrika and 11-point Branco du Preez gave Neil Powell’s men an early lead, before Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau struck to make it 14-7 at half-time.
The score had been levelled at 14-14 seconds after the restart once fly-half Jerry Tuwai scurried clear, but this was the cue for the Blitzbokke to live up to their nickname.
Forward Chris Dry showed composure to engineer an immediate response , with rapier winger Senatla latching onto a kick forward at the death for his leading 11th score of the tournament to seal the win for the bronze medallists from Rio.
“We have forgotten about the Olympics and nothing that happened there is going to help us this season,” said Senatla, whose nation are now five-time Dubai winners. “We knew we needed to start afresh.
“It is such a pleasure for me as a finisher to play with guys that are so magical with the ball in hand. It is not quite close to heaven, but it feels like it is heaven when I play with these guys.”
South Africa put in the display of the event when they annihilated New Zealand 40-0 in the quarter-finals, while their 30-try haul was five more than anyone else.
Fiji had been the class of the field in South America this summer, but this was a relative struggle for them. The only match they truly dominated was the 40-5 dismantling of France in the last-eight, with three tight victories coming in Friday’s Pool A and a rousing comeback required to see off much-improved England 31-12 in the semi-finals.
Only six members of the history-making 13-man squad were present in the UAE.
A permanent replacement for Ryan – who prevailed in Dubai last season – in Gareth Baber will also not be in situ until next year, with previous strength and conditioning coach Nacani Cawanibuka put in temporary control. The interim leader was gracious in defeat.
He said: “We had high hopes about actually winning it, but congratulations to a very good South Africa team. Our boys worked hard, but there were a few moments where we did not stick to our guns.”
There is little opportunity for rest as the action heads to Cape Town next weekend. South Africa boss Powell believed victory would provide “confidence, expectation and pressure” for the imminent event on home soil.
He said: “Against Fiji, there are always going to be only one or two tries in it. To be honest after half-time when they scored under the posts, I was a little bit nervous.
“But I am very happy with the performance.
This gives us confidence, expectation and pressure (for Cape Town). It is going to be key to us to get this out of our system, close the door and then start building again.”
There was no such elation for the All Blacks Sevens. The first tournament since iconic coach Sir Gordon Tietjens walked away after 22 years in charge featured the humiliation in the Cup to South Africa and a 20-12 loss to Antipodean rivals Australia in the Plate semi-final.
“We got taught a good lesson that if you come underprepared at this level, that’s what you’re going to get,” said shell-shocked interim boss Tomasi Cama.
Australia would go on to claim the Plate with a 19-12 win against Scotland. The United States defea-ted Samoa – Tietjens next team – 28-14 in the Bowl showpiece, while Canada came away with the Shield after edging Uganda 20-17.