Mixed fortunes: Blitzboks qualify for Rio 2016, but lose their World Series lead

Mixed fortunes: Blitzboks qualify for Rio 2016, but lose their World Series lead

The Blitzboks stumbled at the weekend in Glasgow, but they have sealed Olympic qualification with one round of fixtures still remaining in this series. Their next challenge is to lift their second title. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

In the World of Sevens Rugby, there is little room for error. The fast-paced nature of the sport means that any small slip-up can see teams crash down to earth. It wasn’t quite a rude awakening for the South African Blitzboks this weekend at the Glasgow Sevens, but it was a small reminder that they are not yet the finished article.

The Blitzboks sealed their qualification for the Rio Olympics over the weekend, but fell short of maintaining their lead at the top of the World Series after losing to New Zealand in the group stages and Fiji in the quarterfinals. Coach Neil Powell had previously said that his team wanted to be the number one in the world, but before they can focus on that, they have to get past the first hurdle.

Just one leg of the season now remains, to be played in London this coming weekend, and South Africa slipped to second in the standings, just behind Fiji by five points. Having won their maiden title in 2008, the Blitzboks are under intense pressure to lift another Cup, especially after becoming Commonwealth Gold medalists last year. It means that when next weekend’s tournament in London rolls around, they will find themselves under intense pressure, but it’s nothing they aren’t used to.

SA captain Kyle Brown knows the score, and knows that he is playing in a team where winning is part of their DNA.

It’s in the Springbok culture to win, so there is always pressure … we hope to get a good start to the tournament (in Glasgow),” Brown said before the team’s departure.

The South African Sevens team offers a good mixture of experience with Frankie Horne, Captain Brown, Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez all having 40 caps or more for the Boks. But a cornerstone of their success has been the young guns coming through the system. Seabelo Senatla only made his debut in 2013 but has already been racking up the points, with 215 in the series – the third most out of all teams competing. He leads the way in terms of try scorers with 43 tries so far, and his speed is something truly special. The chemistry between Senatla and his teammates is exceptional.

Our team has been good as a whole and Seabelo has been an integral part of that. Werner (Kok) and Cecil have done an amazing job in creating space for Seabelo to score those tries,” Brown added.

Losing in the quarterfinal against a team with more power than them might have surprised South Africa somewhat, but it has also given them a clear indication on the areas they need to improve on and luckily for them, they have the system in place to do so.

In today’s era of sport the Blitzboks are the epitome of a modern-day team. Every day each player’s performance, fatigue and even their mental health is monitored and assessed. Every player fills in a form to help the coaches keep track of how the guys are keeping up with training. Because of the fast nature of Sevens, issues creep up fairly quickly. If players start to drop weight rapidly, they need to be assessed, while a mental coach helps keep the team in check for big games.

It all sounds very robotic, but the team is far from that. The huddles and celebrations after their gold medal win on Sunday was evidence that this is a team who goes far beyond what is ordinarily expected of playing sport together.

Then there is the fact that as far as sporting transformation goes, the Blitzboks have got it right time and time again. Comparing the Sevens team and the XVs team is like comparing apples and pears, but it’s encouraging that at least somebody is getting transformation right. It’s even more of a feather in their cap that they’re so successful while doing so. DM

Photo: South Africa’s players celebrate with their medals after defeating New Zealand in the gold medal match of the Rugby Sevens at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, July 27, 2014. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne


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