Cape Town – Has
ever a solitary leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series commanded so much rah-rah
in the specific host city, and to some extent relevant country as a whole?
Blitzboks, for their recent, success-laden “sins”, strode into Cape Town
several days ago to be met by a near-ceaseless – at least until their not-in-the-script
Cup semi-final exit -- wave of wonderment and adulation.
Call it the
“perfect storm”, I guess: the natural public enthusiasm over their status as
defending champions of the annual circuit plus sparkling start to the 2017/18 long
haul in Dubai … and the sheer hunger for a successful national rugby product of
some sort (any sort!) in the wake of another doldrums-afflicted year for the
Springboks in the XVs arena.
event has been an enormous success since its logical, overdue transfer three
years ago to traditionally sports-crazy Cape Town from the more backwater posts
of Port Elizabeth and -- even more ill-advisedly, the deeper you think about it
-- an absurdly generous nine-year grounding in George that stunted both its
economic and PR potential.
The Sevens comes
at a time of year when Capetonians are basking in some of the most reliable,
sun-soaked (if a little “breezy” too, to put it politely) weather countrywide, firmly
in school holiday mode and the city increasingly teeming with cosmopolitan
tourists from far and wide.
So with Neil
Powell’s charges already in fine fettle from their desert success, the third annual
Cape Town Sevens was even more of a marketer’s dream than usual.
build-up visibility as personalities, I surmised, more than matched that you’d
expect of the Springboks if they, for example, were about to tackle a major
rival in a Newlands Test.
Senatla and company were paraded at the obligatory, teeming Waterfront, undertook
signing sessions, fronted copious media appointments, almost had their every
stride scrutinised as if Ronaldo or Messi were in town (maybe with WAGS).
That’s not a
criticism: why wouldn’t SA Rugby and others wish to maximise the feel-good
factor around the Sevens squad, especially as it is so agreeably, harmoniously
representative of all sectors of our often fractious and complex community?
though, it all just seemed a bit much.
have been more over the top, for example, than when one long-established local
broadsheet newspaper had the Blitzboks as their expansive Friday front-page
lead, the subject of that often sombre, serious space known as the “editorial”
and the topic of an op-ed slot (another space generally preserved for highbrow
political analysis) as well.
I don’t know
about you, but I had to keep pinching myself: we are talking a single-leg
Sevens jamboree, for goodness’ sake!
Nor is it as
though South Africa is exactly shy of burning, bigger-picture societal issues for
sharp media focus right now.
wishing to sound like some sort of humourless killjoy, whenever the Sevens is
held in some of the countries boasting long-established major fifteens Test
sides, it is seldom given much more than inside-page type of status in the
pecking order of sporting priority.
And truth be
told, that is roughly its place; a fun-filled, beery spectacle -- with at least
some elements of lotto-like luck a la Twenty20 cricket -- that zooms into town
and quickly back out again.
As with T20,
build-up preview/prediction doesn’t have quite the levels of science associated
with more traditional, extended forms of the sport in question.
press activity in the lead-up to the Cape Town Sevens, it seemed to me that the
gist of the advice to the Blitzboks, albeit in a helluva lot more words at
times, was roughly this: “just keep playing as you are”.
And then --
horror of horrors, sacrilege, billions of blistering blue barnacles (with
apologies to Captain Haddock) – SA’s pride and joy came up a wee bit short on
an unusually nervy, cohesion-lacking Sunday.
Let me make
this clear: I don’t believe that the Blitzboks were guilty of any special swollen-head
syndrome over the weekend; they seem a down-to-earth, appealingly egos-in-check
I also still
believe with some conviction that they will brush aside their home-stage hiccup
(as they did last year) to go on to win the 2017/18 tournament, thus retaining
But it just
appeared, on the pivotal final day, as if the fevered hometown expectation that
they would pitch up and walk on water -- try it, it doesn’t always work –
became the popped screw that fouled their machine.
After a pretty
routine day one, they had to dig deep (from 5-21) down, to subdue Fiji in the
quarter-final, then lost to New Zealand in the semi, and they certainly didn’t
produce more customary standards of polish, either, in narrowly repelling Canada
in the bronze playoff … when we might have expected a more furious “atonement”
have shown that they have the mettle to prevail in destinations not exactly
heaving with green and gold jerseys and rainbow-nation flags -- in a strange
way, a return to that less-pressured environment ought to help bring out their
best qualities anew.
For the last
few days, the Blitzboks were Cape Town’s crush, and of course there are no
rules against that.
subconsciously, perhaps, they became a crutch to grab for, too, in the
desperate desire to make South African rugby as a collective somehow seem more
dandy than it really is …
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