SX10 crash the party to lift World Ten Series Cup
Frankie Horne hailed the collective spirit of his squad after SX10 were crowned World Tens Series Cup champions at the National Sports Centre on Saturday.
The South African franchise were forced to overturn a 14-0 deficit against somewhat surprise final opponents Ohio Aviators before going on to clinch a 21-14 victory in a dominant second-half display.
Riekert Hattingh and Brad Tucker put the Aviators into the ascendancy with converted tries, only for SX10 to reduce the deficit to 14-7 right on the stroke of half-time through a brilliant solo effort from Collins Injera, which was converted by JT Jackson for a further two points.
It ultimately proved pivotal as momentum swung in SX10’s favour with the Cup’s top point-scorer, Injera, crashing over again for his second try, which was again converted to level the scores with five minutes to play.
With a little more than two minutes to play, South African Craig Hunt jinked his way through an inviting gap to
bundle over and complete the turnaround. Jackson maintained his perfect record with another two-point conversion to seal victory.
Title glory proved a fitting ending for SX10, who were forced to sit out of the first three days of World Tens Series League action after one of their players tested positive for Covid-19.
“We were handed a lifeline to come back into this tournament after what happened with Covid situation, but I’m just really proud that the squad came together and have achieved what they have,” said head coach and former South Africa sevens player Frankie Horne, whose side overcame Asia Pacific Dragons 19-0 and Phoenix 12-0 en route to the final.
“It’s a nice story that we’ve come away with the cup after our start to the tournament.
“We have some seasoned campaigners who I knew wouldn’t panic when we went behind. These guys know how to deal with pressured situations, and it was about the guys just keeping their heads and sticking to the plan.
“The score before half-time was vital for us. It kept us in the game and then momentum turned in our favour. We then found a way to outmanoeuvre them, particularly in that second half — and that was key in the end.
“I’m really proud of all the players because we knew we wouldn’t be able to outmuscle them, but we stood up to that and found a way to outsmart them.
“Going into this tournament we knew we needed a team with a lot of culture and spirit. We have great vibe and culture within our squad and it was important that we kept that vibe alive for the players to feed off.
“We want to show people exciting rugby and that is how we try to play, with that bit of flair. I told all of them I would never judge them for trying to be creative, as long as they brought the same amount of effort. I’m just really proud of them all.”
Aviators were ultimately left to rue what might have been a sensational ending for a team who shocked many in reaching the final in a day full of surprises.
Having brushed aside the unpredictable Miami Sun 26-5 in the day’s first quarter-final, Aviators built on that momentum to stun London Royals, who won the World Tens League to receive a bye into the semi-finals. They turned over Royals 12-7, courtesy of a brace of tries from Kyle Baillie, both converted by Dan Cima.
Despite holding the advantage in the final, Ballie, who was voted the World Tens Series Cup most valuable player, believes his side’s greater accumulated fatigue throughout the tournament compared with their rivals proved decisive.
“Speaking for the entire group, I think I can say we are all bitterly disappointed with the result,” said Baillie, whose side ironically were the only ones to beat SX10 in the competition, overcoming them 11-10 in the league stage.
“We had some really great momentum throughout the day and even in the final we had in our own hands up until half-time.
“Unfortunately, things just didn’t go our way and once that momentum shifted we lost our grip on the game.
“The whole tournament proved a battle of attrition and as a squad we were just hanging in with injuries and tiredness. I think with us having to play more games overall and SX10 coming in a little late, it may just have proved the slight difference. All credit to them, though. They played well and congratulations to them.
“Overall, we are delighted with how we’ve played over the entire World Tens Series and we’re really proud to have reached the final by upsetting a few teams along the way.
“It really came together during this final day and I’m really proud of all of the squad.”
Despite SX10 being crowned the inaugural WTS Cup winners, the day may be best remembered for an incredible moment in which Phoenix’s head coach Braam van Straaten literally guided his side into the semi-finals.
With the score locked at 7-7 against Rhinos, the 49-year-old, named in the matchday squad as a specialist kicker and who had already come on to slot a two-point conversion, struck a decisive penalty with the last kick of the game to snatch a 9-7 victory and spark wild jubilation among his squad.
Ohio Aviators 26 Miami Sun 5
Rhinos 7 Phoenix 9
Asia Pacific Dragons 0 SX10 19
Ohio Aviators 12 London Royals 7
Phoenix 0 SX10 12
Ohio Aviators 14 SX10 21