CAPE TOWN – The Blitzboks won’t be heading home with the World Sevens Series trophy like they did the last two years, but their overall result this season is still one to be celebrated.
The Springbok Sevens side secured a fourth-place finish in the 2018-19 series after bagging the bronze medal in the series finale in Paris at the weekend.
Their top-four finish also gained them automatic qualification to the Tokyo Olympics next year - something coach Neil Powell had highlighted as one of their main objectives throughout the season.
Based on that alone, they’ve done well, very well. And while the standards’ of the South African rugby public will never welcome a non-medal series finish like a braai on a Saturday afternoon, this finish was different. And, for the most part, it seems like their fans get it. And that’s good.
It was always going to be tough, given their rebuilding phase.
The Blitzboks had a slow start to the season, which made the possibility of overtaking Fiji, the USA and New Zealand on the standings unlikely as the second half of the 10-tournament series approached.
But between the inconsistency, initial gelling issues and positional missteps, there has been growth. It’s been evident. With the conclusion of the series, the Blitzboks were the only team to top their pool in every single one of the 10 tournaments. They also won two tournaments (Singapore and Vancouver), secured two podium finishes and celebrated their last three games against new World Series champions, Fiji.
Bar their performance against New Zealand in the semi-final at the Stade Jean Bouin, the Blitzboks ended their campaign on a high, winning five of their six matches, including a big win over the on-the-rise Eagles in the third-place final and a clinical display to hammer Samoa 40 points to seven in the Cup quarters.
That’s quite something for a relatively young team ... even something like missed opportunities would have come with some valuable lessons.
And as tough as the season’s been at times, one of the most promising aspects is how those youngsters have integrated into the system and played a role in the boxes the team have ticked in 2019.
JC Pretorius has marked himself as a future great in the green and gold with bright red ink.
Ok, season's done, map updated. Will take a rest for now, before we start afresh in our efforts to leave our country's mark around the world. #WePlayFor You #BestOfUs #ProudlySouthAfrican@castlefreesa @fnbsa @asics_za pic.twitter.com/n3AuYFsoKV— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) June 3, 2019
Having watched Impi Visser play recently, you’d be forgiven for guessing him to be 10 tournaments older. Muller du Plessis has continued to show more and more of his potency since joining the squad last year (along with Pretorius, the speedster made the Paris Dream Team, unsurprisingly so).
Kurt-Lee Arendse had circuit stakeholders screaming “the future!” after only his second tournament appearance. And although his contributions have been more a case of dangerous potential as opposed to growth as a new Blitzbok (although it’s certainly to come), he deserves a mention for what he did do in the brief time with the team from making his debut to being hit by injury.
After they unofficially locked down the fourth spot on the standings at the penultimate event in London, the Blitzboks didn’t have much more than pride (and maintaining their standards) to play for in the French capital.
And given the season and its challenges they’ve had to face, their final result should have delivered no shortage of pride to their fans.@WynonaLouw