Seldom has a South African sports team been as dominant as the South African Sevens team. They’ve wrapped up the World Sevens title with one tournament to play and are on track to set a new record for most points in a 10-tournament season if they win at Twickenham this weekend. It’s difficult to single out the stand-out players from the past weekend’s Paris tournament, but Chris Dry and Philip Snyman were included in the Dream Team named after the event. Werner Kok was the Player of the Final, Ruhan Nel made the most tackles in Paris. What is particularly impressive with this Blitzbok achievement is that it’s been achieved despite losing players to Super Rugby (Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith) and to injury at various stages of the season (Kyle Brown, Justin Geduld, Branco du Preez, Cecil Afrika, Stephan Dippenaar, Rosko Specman). Those missing players would make a world-class team. A number of debutantes were thrown in the deep end with little time to find their way in this world title-winning year and excelled. It speaks volumes about the culture of this team and the way they are managed. Sport24’s Lloyd Bunyard writes about the brotherhood of the Blitzboks. – David O’Sullivan
In Rio de Janeiro at last year’s Olympic Games, one of the moments that stood out was Francois Hougaard offering Seabelo Senatla his bronze medal following South Africa’s Sevens campaign.
Senatla had been ruled out of the semi-finals with injury, when the Blitzboks lost to Great Britain, and he could not play in the 3rd/4th place play-off against Japan.
Due to Olympic regulations, the South African speedster would not be awarded a medal after the Blitzboks walloped the Japanese 54-14, despite having featured prominently in their campaign up until then.
At the medal ceremony the Blitzboks made sure that Senatla would have his moment when they pulled him onto the pitch at Deodoro Stadium to join in the celebrations, but he was still not allowed on the podium.
Senatla wasn’t too fussed. There is no room for individual accolades when it comes to this bunch, and seeing his team-mates up there was all the reward he needed.
“Brotherhood” is a word you hear a lot when talking to the Sevens boys, and it starts from the top in coach Neil Powell, who has facilitated an environment that thrives on commitment, professionalism and unity.
This year, the Blitzboks have been miles ahead of any other Sevens side on the world circuit and they waltzed to their first World Series victory since 2008/09 when they won their fifth tournament of the year at the Paris Sevens over the weekend.
— Brenden Nel (@BrendenNel) May 14, 2017
That is obviously down to far more than ethic. Powell has coached these players to the point where they could execute their attacking moves blindfolded while, on defence, they pride themselves on their physicality and structure.
You can see by taking one quick look at this Blitzboks team that they are incredibly well coached, but the attitudes of the players also stands out and it is something to take notice of as the Springboks enter a season of massive significance.
It is obviously easier to build a team culture in Sevens when the side is together for an entire season, traveling to 10 different cities around the world. But there is still something to be said about just how close this group is.
Powell has been a superb leader.
He expects consistency in execution … time and time and time again. He is serious, but approachable, and he believes in his players and what he is trying to achieve.
— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) May 15, 2017
The Blitzboks know exactly how they want to play, and every training session and team talk is centred around executing that plan.
They are a clinical outfit and, as a result, they have become South African rugby’s shining light at a time when there isn’t much else to celebrate.
The Boks were terrible last year while there hasn’t been much to get excited about in Super Rugby 2017 either, with only the Lions making a real mark.
As Springbok coach Allister Coetzee prepares for what is effectively a do-or-die season for him, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to spend some time with Powell.
The Boks last year looked a side all at sea. There was no clear plan, no clear structure and all too often players could be seen with their hands on their hips and their heads pointed downwards.
That is not the Blitzboks way. When they lose, they hold their heads up high and acknowledge that they didn’t execute how they should have. They go back to the training pitch and make it right. That is the attitude.
Powell was involved at last October’s SA coaching Indaba, but with the Sevens season coming to an end and the Springbok season starting, there might be an opportunity for him to spend some time with Coetzee and the Boks.
Powell is obviously not going to solve Coetzee’s problems, but he may be able to share some insight on what has made the Blitzboks the best in the world over the past three seasons.
I suspect a lot of it has to do with team culture, and perhaps Coetzee could use some of that insight to his own benefit.
Sevens and 15s are obviously two completely different games, but winning is winning, and Powell clearly knows how to do that.
There aren’t many who do in South African rugby anymore. – Sport24