South Africa’s women’s sevens team can look forward to their first-ever Olympics Games after winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens regional qualifying tournament in Tunisia.
Kenya pushed them all the way in the final in Monastir as they looked to book their place at a third Olympics having previously represented the region in Rio and Tokyo.
But the Lionesses came up just short, losing 12-7, and will now have to try their luck in the repechage – along with third place Uganda – in a bid to maintain their ever-present record.
Nadine Roos starred for South Africa throughout the two-day event, scoring nine tries and kicking 10 conversions including her side’s first try in the final.
South Africa breezed through day one with comfortable wins against Zimbabwe (26-0), Uganda (19-0) and Tunisia (27-7) with Roos contributing 37 of their points.
A Roos hat-trick on day two then helped the Springbok Women’s Sevens to beat Zambia 31-0 in the semi-final and set up a date with Kenya.
The Lionesses had kicked off their campaign with two big wins against Zambia and Ghana, scoring 68 points without reply, but nearly came unstuck against Madagascar in their final pool match, edging a tight contest 20-17.
Dennis Mwanja’s charges had a far easier ride in the semi-final, beating Uganda 27-0, and went into the final with real confidence.
However, Kenya found themselves 5-0 behind at half-time with Roos' unconverted try the only thing separating the teams.
Sharon Auma then gave Kenya hope when she levelled the scores, Grace Okulu converting to send them into a 7-5 lead.
But Maria Thshiremba had the final say for South Africa when she scored from a set piece move, Roos adding the conversion to make it 12-7.
"A great feeling"
South Africa head coach Renfred Dazel said he was delighted for the players that they were able to create history and finally qualify for the Olympics.
“I feel so happy for the players who worked so hard to achieve this – we were denied in 2016 and 2020, but this time it is official, and it’s such a great feeling,” said Dazel.
"We knew Kenya was going to be a tough opponent and I told the players that defence will win us this one. We did really well in the first half, but could not convert all our pressure into points, so when they took the lead in the second half, we had to fight hard.
“But once again, like in the Challenger Series final, we had the fight in us for the win and it was a great comeback.”
The Springbok Women's Sevens team earlier in the year secured core status on the revamped HSBC SVNS after winning the Challenger Series in Stellenbosch, and Dazel said qualifying for the Olympic Games will further boost their profile.
“It is huge for our system and it is huge for women's rugby in the country overall,” he said.
“There will be more opportunities now for girls to come and play rugby, so winning this weekend was immense for the women's game. The future looks bright.”