Cape Town - The Blitzboks winning the tournament is not
imperative to the enjoyment those who attend the Cape Town Sevens will derive
from the event, but last year’s experience suggests it is important that the
hosts stay in the running for the main prize until the final game.
The last couple of World Series events to be staged in Port
Elizabeth and the first two in Cape Town (2015 and 2016) saw the Blitzboks make
the final, according to the supersport.com website.
So in those years the tournament built up on the last day to
a fitting and explosive climax.
The Blitzboks were beaten by England in the decider two
years ago, but it didn’t matter - the local disappointment wasn’t felt until
the tournament was effectively over.
But last year, when the Blitzboks were blown out by New
Zealand in a mid-afternoon semi-final, it introduced a flat, anticlimactic
atmosphere, with many punters heading for the gates at the same time as the
South Africans made their exit.
The stands were only half full by the time the final
arrived. And it could have been a lot worse - the fall off in interest could
have happened much earlier in the day, before lunch, for the Blitzboks were
lucky to survive their quarterfinal clash with Fiji, where they had to fight
back from a big early deficit.
What will happen if the Blitzboks get blown out early on
Sunday, or perish the thought, they lose to Samoa and New Zealand on a tough
first day and start Sunday only in the running for consolation placings?
So there you have the reason why the Blitzboks might have
good reason to feel that their home tournament is the one where they feel the
most pressure. They carry a massive burden into the event and the load was
probably heightened by the success enjoyed in the years preceding last season’s
In some other tournaments, such as Hong Kong and Dubai,
there isn’t the same reliance on the host team to carry the momentum through to
the last game.
They are long-standing tournaments, there isn’t a host team
that stands a realistic chance of winning the event, and the focus is on
enjoyment of the entertainment provided - as should be the case at a Sevens
Hopefully the Blitzbok failure in Dubai last week, thus
lessening local expectation considerably, will have the effect of negating the
stampede for the gates that we saw when the Blitzboks were knocked out on the
Sunday of last year’s tournament should it happen again this weekend.
The Cape Town Sevens has built up a considerable reputation
on the circuit in a very short space of time, and there needs to be a crowd
presence at the showpiece game of the tournament.
Hopefully the weather will play along, for the gale-force
winds that buffeted the stadium last year probably also played a role in people
leaving the ground early.
There’s been a bit of unseasonal rain about, but the
forecast, certainly for the first day, is good.
With Justin Geduld recovering from injury, Blitzbok coach
Neil Powell has named the same 12-man squad that did duty in Dubai last
It lacks the experience of the squads that represented the
host nation in the last few South African legs of the World Series, but there
are still enough experienced players around to guide the newcomers.
For instance, former skipper Kyle Brown is a veteran of 66
tournaments, and is closing in on the record, while Branco du Preez has been
present at 62 World Series tournaments.
Skipper Philip Snyman has 55 to his credit, Werner Kok has
done 38 and Rosko Specman 27. It is a good thing they have that sort of
experience available, for the pressure is going to be intense over the next two
“We have learned lessons from last weekend, but that is also
true for the other teams in the tournament,” said Powell.
“Everybody knows a little more of each other than was the
case last week, so it will be tougher to break down defences, no doubt. That
said, we know we can only improve from last week and that is a nice prospect.”
Powell said the focus remains on the first match against
Samoa on Saturday.
“We had a tough battle against them in Dubai and this time
it will not be different,” said Powell of their Pacific Island opponents, who
were beaten 19-12 by the Blitzboks last weekend.
“They are a very physical side with some big, fast players
and we will have to be very sharp for our opening match.”
They will indeed. The fast food vendors, the beer gardens
and the other businesses that aim to make a profit out of the event depend on
them to ensure their tills will still be clicking on Sunday afternoon.
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