The Blitzboks kicked off their challenge at Dignity Health Sports Park with resounding wins over Kenya (31-5) and Canada (33-5), but then had to rely on a last-play converted try by Stedman Gans to haul in Ireland and share the spoils 19-19.
Scores were tied 7-7 at the break, but Ireland scored twice after the restart and looked set to claim their first win over the Blitzboks with less than two minutes to go.
A try by Kurt-Lee Arendse eased the deficit. The Irish tried to run out the clock, but their timing was two seconds out and they kicked the ball into touch near their own line just before the final whistle.
Chris Dry, who joined the team only hours before after a long haul from South Africa, won the crucial resulting lineout with Gans cutting the Irish to shreds with a well-timed run. Selvyn Davids kicked the conversion to draw the match.
2 from 2 but still a work in progress. @stedmangans after the Blitzboks 33-5 win over @CanadaSevens in their Pool B match of @LASevensRugby. Earlier South Africa defeated @KenyaSevens 31-5 @CastleFreeSA @FNBSA @ASICS_ZA pic.twitter.com/j9TrZimJEE— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) March 1, 2020
For Blitzbok assistant coach, Renfred Dazel, that result spoke volumes of the team's general attitude on the day.
"We never lost composure and forced Ireland into that mistake with seconds to go. In sevens you need to play and concentrate the full 14 minutes, or you will be punished," Dazel reflected.
Dazel was pleased with the overall effort and said the contributions from the bench proved their worth: “Kurt-Lee Arendse did well when he played and Muller du Plessis finished well when called upon, so generally it was a good day for us."
The close result against Ireland reminded the team about the knock-out realities that awaits them on Sunday.
"If you don't pitch up and play at your very best in the knock-out stages, your Cup dreams will be over," said Dazel.
"We will not only play USA, but their crowd as well, so need to be sharp on Sunday."
It was a 50th tournament and 250th match for Werner Kok when they took the field against Kenya and he had a mixed bag, being yellow-carded, but also scoring a good try.
"I only needed to kick a conversion as well for full value in that match," Kok said.
"We were outplayed a bit by Ireland, all due to a poor start and that is something that we need to get right on the second day. We started poorly in all three matches and that must be a wake-up call for Sunday."
Kok said he appreciated the milestone: “It was fun out there today. At times it was tough, but what a great feeling being out there with the boys."
@wernerkok1 celebrated his 50 th @WorldRugby7s appearance with...well a bit of a mixed bag. A yellow card and a try in South Africa’s 31-5 win over @KenyaSevens in their opening match of @LASevensRugby . All smiles though at the end! @CastleFreeSA @FNBSA @ASICS_ZA pic.twitter.com/tbkhvJiRmq— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) February 29, 2020
South Africa 31 (12), Kenya 5 (5) - Tries: Angelo Davids, JC Pretorius, Werner Kok, Muller du Plessis, Branco du Preez. Conversions: Selvyn Davids, Cecil Afrika, Branco du Preez.
South Africa 33 (14), Canada 5 (5) - Tries: Stedman Gans, Cecil Afrika, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Muller du Plessis (2). Conversions: Selvyn Davids (3), Branco du Preez.
South Africa 19 (7), Ireland 19 (7) - Tries: Stedman Gans (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse. Conversions: Selvyn Davids (2).
The quarter-finals on Sunday are (SA times):
19h43: Fiji v England
20h05: Ireland v Australia
20h27: New Zealand v France
20h49: SA v USA