Lloyd Burnard

Blitzboks still the pride of SA rugby

2017-12-11 08:29
Lloyd Burnard

Cape Town - Over 50 000 supporters were left gobsmacked as the Blitzboks went crashing out to New Zealand in the semi-finals of the Cape Town Sevens on Sunday. 

It was not the result they had come to see, nor one they had expected. 

It made it worse that the loss was at the hands of the 'old foe', and as was the case in 2016, Neil Powell's men couldn't get the job done in front of their own supporters. 

Powell acknowledged after the semi-final that, perhaps, the pressure of playing in front of what has become one of the most passionate crowds in South African sport may have gotten to the players. 

If it didn't, then they would not be human. 

The roar that came out of Cape Town Stadium every time the Blitzboks launched an attack on Sunday was deafening. 

The comeback against Fiji in the quarter-finals, where the South Africans were 14-0 and a man down after 90 seconds, set the tone for the rest of the day. If the Blitzboks could pull that one out of the flames, they could do anything. 

Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, but let that not detract from just how good this South African side is. 

The 2016/17 World Rugby Sevens Series champions are favourites wherever they go, not just on home soil. 

They are fitter, stronger, quicker and more clinical than any other side on the Sevens circuit. Under Powell's leadership they have developed and solidified a noticeable team culture and identity that thrives on brotherhood and performance. 

You hear the word "processes" a lot when talking to Powell and his players. Everyone is on the same page, everyone knows what is expected of them and that much can be seen in the way they play their rugby. 

It was so refreshing to hear Powell get stuck into his players after the gutting semi-final loss. 

He didn't lose his cool and would not fault the commitment, but he acknowledged that his side's performance was "not good enough" and that the players had "let themselves down". He lambasted an inability to hold onto the ball, and made it clear that they had not implemented their processes. 

There were no excuses. 

The Blitzboks, Powell said, simply hadn't played well enough. There was accountability. 

The same cannot be said for the Springboks this year. 

After every loss, we are given a list of excuses that have little or nothing to do with addressing just how poorly the Boks played. 

Accountability and transparency go a long way towards getting the public to buy into a team's endeavours, and that is a lesson that the Bok coaching staff as well as the SA Rugby leadership need to take note of. 

It is no surprise that Powell's name has come when talking about coaches and consultants who could help in lifting the Boks out of their current hole. 

To not include Powell in some way would actually be short-sighted.  

He is a leader, a man manager and a guy who calls it like it is. There is no deflection or spin ... that is not the Blitzbok way.

But Powell is also a tactician who has developed a clear Blitzboks style - one that thrives on hard work, physical defence, fitness and crisp execution. 

With that approach, Powell has turned his side into the best in the world. 

They may not be Cape Town champions this year, but there is no question that the Blitzboks remain South African rugby's most prized possession. 

Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...

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