Herman Mostert

Time is right for Blitzboks to dominate

2016-12-07 11:18
Herman Mostert

Cape Town - The Springbok Sevens side’s impressive showing in Dubai last weekend should be the catalyst for the team to achieve greater heights.

Neil Powell’s men made a statement when they won the Dubai Sevens by beating Olympic gold medallists Fiji 26-14 in the Cup final.

They outclassed New Zealand 40-0 in the quarter-finals and when Wales were dispatched 36-5 in the semi-finals, the pessimist in me was saying they had peaked too early - as had often been the case over the last few seasons.

But the ease with which the Fijians were fended off was a welcome surprise.

Aside from being sharp on attack, the team’s organisation on defence and ferocity at the breakdown area were sights to behold.

They simply smothered the Fijians, giving the islanders no room to manoeuvre and thoroughly deserved their title.

But as we’ve seen in seasons gone by, the Blitzboks have too often played second fiddle after showing much promise early on.

Since taking over as head coach from Paul Treu in 2013, Powell’s men have finished as World Rugby Sevens Series runners-up on three occasions.

Powell has done a great job since taking charge, assuring that the correct systems are in place for the sevens programme to run smoothly at its base in Stellenbosch.

Sevens Academy manager Marius Schoeman and Powell have worked well together in assuring a uniform playing style.

Promising players are scouted from a young age and brought through the system with a clear understanding of their roles in the sevens game, while the conditioning of the players is second to none.

Werner Kok, Seabelo Senatla, Kwagga Smith and Cheslin Kolbe are a few of the big-name players to have benefited immensely from these structures.

But as is the norm in South African rugby, fans want the national team to be the best and in the last few seasons the Blitzboks haven’t quite been there.

They finished runners-up to New Zealand in 2013/14, after which they played second fiddle to Fiji in 2014/15 and 2015/16.

It’s surely no disgrace finishing below those teams, who from a physical perspective are perhaps more naturally gifted than their South African counterparts.

But the Blitzboks have been right up there as contenders and small margins decided their fate last season.

However if they want to finish the 2016/17 season as champions, they simply have to win more Cup finals.

That means peaking at the right time and claiming three wins on the trot in the knockout stages.

Too often we’ve seen the South Africans celebrate a triumph over New Zealand, only to lose to Fiji in their next outing, or vice-versa.

Last season, South Africa’s Cape Town title was their only Cup success in 10 tournaments. Champions Fiji claimed three Cup titles, while New Zealand - who finished third behind South Africa - also bagged three titles.

South Africa’s consistency is what saw them finish second, but the team let slip opportunities which cost them the overall grand prize.

Yes, the Blitzboks were hard done by in losing the Wellington final to New Zealand, when referee Matt O’Brien post-match issued an apology for his performance.

In that game, the Blitzboks were leading 21-7 deep into the second half, before the hosts scored three tries in as many minutes to win 24-21.

The penalty count that night read 9-1 in favour of New Zealand, with O’Brien heavily punishing the South Africans at the breakdown area.

Needless to say, a more clinical team would have closed the game out when leading 21-7 in the dying stages.

At the Vancouver event in March, the Blitzboks surprised by beating Fiji 31-19 in the semi-finals, only to again lose to New Zealand in the final, this time 19-14.

Perhaps the most disappointing result of the season came at the final event in London when Scotland stunned the Blitzboks 27-26.

The South Africans had led 26-15 with less than a minute remaining, only to see the Scots score two quick-fire tries to claim their first Cup title.

Little mistakes here and there cost the team dearly and we saw more of that at the Rio Olympics where South Africa claimed the bronze medal.

There, things could have turned out differently if a two-man overlap was better utilised in the semi-final loss to Great Britain...

Don’t get me wrong, 2015/16 was not a disappointing season by any means, but it should be used as a stepping stone for greater success in the current one.

To date, the 2008/09 success remains South Africa’s lone series triumph and that compares meagerly to New Zealand’s 12, and Fiji’s 3.

The Blitzboks boast enough star players to compete with the likes of Fiji and New Zealand, who have been regularly upended in recent times - it’s now just about doing it at the right time when it really matters, starting at Cape Town Stadium this weekend...

Herman Mostert works at Sport24 - is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...

Disclaimer:
Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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