Blitzboks gave SA Rugby something to cheer about in 2017

Blitzboks try-machine Seabelo Senatla.
Blitzboks try-machine Seabelo Senatla.
Image: Sunday Times

In an otherwise difficult year for South African rugby‚ the Blitzboks at least provided some cheer by winning the 2016/17 HSBC World Sevens Series with a tournament to spare.

Neil Powell’s team took skill and execution to new levels and have set a benchmark for sevens rugby that will be used by all opponents in the years ahead.

The Blitzboks’ mix of pace on attack‚ brilliant and accurate technique at the breakdown‚ coupled with a strong defensive system formed the backbone of their campaign that saw them take an unassailable lead on the standings by winning the penultimate tournament in Paris.

Powell’s side showed unprecedented consistency‚ coupled with ruthlessness on their way to the SA’s first sevens title since 2009.

Over the past five years the appeal of sevens has grown with its introduction as an Olympic Sport‚ and no side has been as consistent as South Africa were last season.

The Blitzboks claimed five of the 10 titles‚ and also made eight finals.

They won 82% of their matches – 49 out of 60 with 10 defeats and a draw – and collected 192 log points.

Nearest challengers England lost 14 of their 58 matches with two draws for a 72% winning ratio while Olympic champions Fiji lost 16 of their 58 matches with one draw – a 71% winning ratio.

The Blitzboks won in Dubai‚ Wellington‚ Sydney‚ Las Vegas and Paris and were runners-up in Cape Town‚ Vancouver and Hong Kong.

Powell committed that his side would not stand still after they won the title following four years as series’ runners-up.

Their goal is to keep pushing the boundaries of sevens play.

“There is a saying that if you stand still you are actually going backwards‚ so we have to go and search for the one percenters that will take us to another level‚” Powell said recently.

“We have to stay ahead of the bunch because everybody is improving. There are a group of new coaches on the circuit and new players who are all honing their sevens systems and the more time they spend together the better are becoming.

“We have to find areas of our game that need improvement so that we can stay ahead of the pack.

“We had two goals – to win the series and develop the next generation of players this season.

“It’s difficult to get that balance right because under pressure to win you sometimes don’t throw the younger guys into the mix. But we have done pretty well in that regard.

“We evaluate ourselves not so much on the result but the effort we put in‚” the coach said.

“I’m so proud of the boys because they put in so much work over years for this.

“Besides winning‚ I’m most proud of the work ethic because it’s something that didn’t happen overnight. It was built up over four seasons.

“The culture we have also stands out for me. We fight for each other and if someone makes a mistake the other guys are there to cover for them.”

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