Coach Neil Powell seen talking to his team during the half-time break at the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton. Photo: Raghavan Venugopal /
Coach Neil Powell seen talking to his team during the half-time break at the New Zealand Sevens in Hamilton. Photo: Raghavan Venugopal /

Do rugby fans treat Springbok Sevens as a sideshow?

By Jacques van der Westhuyzen Time of article published Mar 5, 2019

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JOHANNESBURG – South African rugby fans are sore losers most of the time. They mope around for days when their Super Rugby teams lose, and it’s even worse when the Springboks suffer defeat.

But for some reason, those same fans hardly even notice when the BlitzBoks lose, or are embarrassed. Or, they notice the odd result here and there, process it, and move on. It’s hardly something mulled over and debated around the braai fire, on social media, and on other platforms.

The BlitzBoks appear to me to get a free ride, as opposed to the Springboks.

South Africa was in disbelief when the Boks lost to Japan at the World Cup four years ago - and rightly so. There was anger, too, and rightly so. But when Neil Powell’s Sevens players drew 5-5 with Chile in Las Vegas this past weekend there was hardly that kind of anger or disbelief shown. Why is that?

Sure, Powell and his coaching team and the players will do analysis and have a good hard talk about results when they’re poor and disappointing, but no one will call for the heads of the coaches and the players. It’ll be a case, rather, of forgetting the past tournament and moving onto the next one.

But at what stage should the fans - and even the bosses at SA Rugby - be asking serious questions about the national Sevens team? 

The Blitzboks finished the 2018 CapeTown7s in third place. Photo: Phandulwazi Jikelo/ANA Pictures

After five tournaments of the current series, the BlitzBoks have yet to play in a final. They have finished , third, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively in Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton, Sydney and Las Vegas. Last season’s same tournaments produced a win, a third place, back-to-back runners-up spots and a fourth.

It’s fair to say the BlitzBoks are in a serious slump. They are fifth in the standings at the halfway point, the top try-scorer, Siviwe Soyizwapi, is sixth on the list, with the next best, Werner Kok, 25th. Soyizwapi has scored the most points for the BlitzBoks, but he’s 19th on the overall points-scorers list.

Yes, the team is going through a transition with the likes of Kwagga Smith, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel and Rosco Spekman all now playing 15-man rugby and others like Cecil Afrika, Frankie Horne, Kyle Brown and Chris Dry either injured or retired. However, does that mean the poor results of the team that won the world series just a season ago should be excused and accepted?

What is abundantly clear is that the new generation of Sevens players in the set-up still have some way to go to equal the feats of some of this country’s greatest Sevens stars. What has also become clear is that one doesn’t easily replace seasoned campaigners who’ve “been there, done that and got the T-shirt”, as the saying goes.

It's the 5th place semi-final between @fijirugby and @Blitzboks. Plenty to play for with valuable series points up for grabs with #Tokyo2020 qualification spots on the line #HSBC7s

— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) March 3, 2019

The BlitzBoks have been one of this country’s greatest rugby exports and everyone does a song and dance when things go well, but the team should not be immune to criticism when things go wrong and results are poor.

Sevens rugby is an Olympic sport, there is a World Cup, and there is a world series, but the seven-man game in this country is still viewed so differently to international Test rugby and even Super Rugby. It feels like an after-thought a lot of the time, where the fans like the home-town party when the event comes to town, but aren’t too concerned about the results.

If the BlitzBoks win or lose, life goes on, but that’s not the case with the Boks, or the Super Rugby teams. There’s a strong reaction of some sorts always, which is not the case with our Sevens team. 

Why is that?


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