CAPE TOWN - If you look at the game of Sevens, the standout things are stunning attack, eye-catching pace and skills fine enough to be envied by any athlete.
In fact, a common misconception used to be (not so much anymore), that Sevens is all about attack and not so much about defence.
And that can’t be any further from the truth. Defence is obviously important in rugby, and in Sevens, it’s vital.
With only seven men on the field, there’s just so much space, so much space to exploit. Any team can score tries against the best of teams if the oppostition's defence isn’t on par. And the tries will keep rolling in if that below-par defence doesn’t clean up.
How often have you seen stunning attacking teams lose because of a defensive error a simple missed tackle that led to a try? How many times have players taking a bit too long to get back up and get right back into defending caused problems for themselves?
Or how many times have you seen teams produce a composed performance on defence, maybe not as flashy on attack as the opposition, but deliver a good-enough outing on defence to keep the opposition out and apply enough defensive pressure to force them into making mistakes for them to capitalise on? There are many scenarios to play out and demonstrate the importance of defence in the game of Sevens.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell has mentioned that importance many times. More specifically, the Blitzbok chief has said that they - the Springbok Sevens team - pride themselves on defence. And he’s also said that being clinical on attack is key, too.
And that’s been very evident.
The Blitzboks boast some of the fiercest tacklers in the game - just look at guys like Chris Dry and Werner Kok, to name a few, and more often than not, in the last World Sevens Series, the South Africans have had their names on the most-tackles-made list a number of times. And when it comes to tackle completion, they haven’t been too scarce from that list either.
The Blitzboks just seem to get that balance between outstanding defence and sharp attack just right.
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In the semi-final against Fiji, their victory could in part be attributed to impressive defence and relentless contesting on the ground. They made big hits and the Fijians just couldn’t penetrate their defensive lines. It proved vital in their success yet again. And that was just one example of their defensive efforts.
And as solid as they are on defence, the Blitzboks also have every attacking component that any team would be lucky to have. From try-masters that rake in the five-pointers, to speedsters that can make sprinting down through the middle, down touch and from anywhere on the field look like it’s absolutely nothing, to those who put in the grind at the attacking breakdowns, the Blitzboks have it all. They combine attack and defence perfectly, and then, of course, there’s all the other components - like team culture and team work - that add to their success.
The stigma around Sevens and defence seems to be changing, and that’s good. And you just have to look at the Blitzboks’ performances to see how vital defence really is.