With the Springboks’ miserable season over, now is a good time to sit back and enjoy the feats achieved by the Blitzbokke. At the HSBC Word Sevens Series in Dubai they won the tournament in devastating style to set the early pace at the start of the new season.
The Blitzbokke defeated reigning Olympic gold medallists and defending Dubai Sevens champions, Fiji, 27-14, in what was an exciting and frenetic final in front of a sell-out crowd at the Sevens stadium in Dubai. It was the Blitzboks’ fifth win of the tournament but, most importantly, they ended the Fijians’ 11-match winning streak, which stretches back to the third and fourth place playoff defeat to the United States in Twickenham in May 2015.
To lay their hands on the Holy Grail of Sevens rugby, teams need consistency in their performance. That means taking the referee’s influence on the result out of the equation and concentrating on what works for the team. That is what the South Africans illustrated in their win over the perennial kings of Sevens rugby in the final.
Having many superstars in their line-up and a strong bench is a fantastic conundrum for coach Neil Powell. There is a lot to be learnt by all South African teams from the blueprint that the Sevens team has laid out in how they conquered giants Fiji. The final was a culmination of:
- How to consistently unlock defences;
- How to get into the minds of supposedly superior opponents;
- Playing a physical game that forces their opponents to play short; and
- Most importantly, playing in their opponents’ faces and forcing them to make errors; that is how the Fijians let three tries through.
It’s the last point that bears the most significance. The manner in which the Blitzbokke waited for their opportunity, how they were never rushed and how they converted nearly every chance they got is a lesson that can be learnt by all.
They showed resilience by the bucket loads, especially in defence. The physical prowess of guys such as Werner Kok, Kwagga Smith and, later, hard-running Chris Dry were phenomenal to witness.
When there was space to manoeuvre out wide, they moved the ball to their speedy quartet of Roscko Specman, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika and the best player in the Sevens game at the moment, Seabelo Senatla – a man nicknamed “Frank” Senatla, presumably because of the many times he has made the crowd sing after scoring another of his wondrous tries.
Experience is a key factor in this tournament and it’s vital for a good second-week performance if they want to win the 10-leg World Series overall, which was last captured by the 2008-2009 team coached by Paul Treu.
A mentor to Powell, Treu remains the only South African coach to have lifted the trophy and should be acknowledged as the man who brought professionalism to
the shortened version of the game.
Treu was the right man at the right time. He had the vision to contract players to the Sevens format and he strategically worked out how to get South Africa to be a contender in the World Series, even though the demands of the country veers to the 15-man game.
Treu was the one who started full-time pay for players and full-time programmes, and he was a pioneer for that format of the game. He is the kind of guy who deserves a strategic position in our rugby.
This weekend in Cape Town will mark the second stop of the World Series and the 55 000-seater Cape Town Stadium is sold out for both days. It’s a place that already houses fond memories. The Blitzbokke will be looking to defend their Cape Town crown and attempt to make it a quintet of consecutive wins at home since 2013 in Port Elizabeth.
The off-pitch distractions caused by the news that the South African Rugby Union was looking to SuperSport for a loan to pay out beleaguered Bok coach Allister Coetzee should be left at the door this weekend. And so should the talk of bringing back Rassie Erasmus, or the rumours circulating that Dave Rennie, who has one year left with the Chiefs, is also being lined up as a replacement.
I am looking forward to seeing the boys in Cape Town and I am under no illusion as to how competitive the tournament will be. But a victory will bring much-needed relief to demoralised South African rugby supporters. I have no doubt that the final is going to be electrifying and full of drama.
For once, let’s just relax and enjoy some rugby played by men wearing the green and gold.