South Africa's best result in the previous five rounds of the 2018-2019 season was a third-placing in its home tournament at Cape Town in December. The new-look BlitzBokke have been forced to give up several key players to Super Rugby and were only seventh at the previous series stop at Las Vegas last week.
But after completing pool play Saturday with an unbeaten record, including a win over series leader the United States, they went on to reach the final with a 33-12 quarterfinal win over Argentina and 31-12 semifinal win over Fiji.
France was the most unlikely of finalists, appearing in its first Cup final since 2012 and chasing a first title in 14 years. The French were only 15th at the Las Vegas Sevens and were beaten 45-7 by New Zealand in their opening pool match in Vancouver.
But they recovered to reach the playoffs, beating Las Vegas finalists Samoa 35-12 in the quarterfinals and the United States 33-5 in the semis. France also scored first in the final, through veteran Pierre Gilles Lakafi, to raise the prospect of one of the biggest finals upsets in series history.
The French were able to hold the ball for long periods but possibly lacked the speed out wide to make full use of that possession. South Africa finally got some good possession in the sixth minute to take the lead with a try under the posts to Impi Visser, one of their stars of the tournament. Speedster Selvyn Davids then scored almost three minutes after the siren to give South Africa a 14-5 lead at halftime.
Werner Kok gave South Africa a 21-5 lead with a try in the second minute of the second half. France kept its hopes faintly alive when Stephan Parez broke away to score two minutes later. If France could have scored again the match would have been in the balance, but it was unable to break down the defense and South Africa claimed its first series title since Paris last season.
"I think it was a much improved effort from our team and the boys played some fantastic rugby," South Africa captain Philip Snyman said. "I'm really happy with the win and hopefully we can build on this one now.
"There's a lot of talent in this group and a lot of talent waiting back home ... I knew it was only a matter of time until this team started to gel." The United States still leads the series standing with 113 points, seven ahead of New Zealand and 12 clear of Olympic gold medalist Fiji.
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