CAPE TOWN – Blitzbok coach Neil Powell bemoaned his team’s lack of “respect for the ball” after they came up short for the second year in a row at the Cape Town Sevens.
The South Africans ended in third position after winning their playoff against Canada 19-17 at a chilly Cape Town Stadium on Sunday evening.
But it was the manner in which they went down 19-12 to New Zealand in the Cup semi-final in the afternoon that was the most disappointing aspect of the Cape Town Sevens for home fans.
The Blitzboks were unable to maintain their almost Zen-like patience (relatively speaking, as we’re talking about sevens rugby here), especially on attack, as they got sucked into a “macho” type of encounter.
The Kiwis were explosive on attack, and put in some massive hits in defence to upset the South Africans’ rhythm.
This led to an uncharacteristic penchant for Powell’s players to be too individualistic, as it seemed like everybody wanted to be the hero instead of letting the ball do the work.
They didn’t try to outfox the New Zealand defence, as they rather opted to try to run through defenders instead of stretching them to create space out wide for the likes of Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith, while also kicking too much.
Perhaps the occasion also got to them, as an expectant home crowd smelled a trophy as the semi-final was like the final, as the remaining Cup teams were Argentina and Canada, both of whom the Blitzboks would expect to beat in a decider.
“Yes, definitely (played a helter-skelter type of game). We didn’t have respect for the ball. We gave away possession too easily and kicked it away, where we should’ve just held on to the ball,” Powell said after the semi-final.
“We knew that if we could go through a few phases, then the opportunities would come. But it was almost as if the guys didn’t really understand. New Zealand didn’t really outmuscle us at the rucks.
“We just give away our possession unnecessarily by making mistakes and kicking the ball away. And if you play against a quality team like New Zealand, they will punish you.”
Two of Blitzboks’ traditional strengths – defence and breakdowns – also let them down as there were simply too many slipped one-on-one tackles, as well as allowing opponents to get the offload away, while there weren’t enough low shots at the ankles to halt the momentum.
Coach Powell was adamant that the way the Blitzboks played was not the plan he had formulated.
“I think Fiji were more physical than New Zealand (today). They targeted us more at the breakdowns and tried to dominate us more in that area. So, it was a case of just hanging on to your ball,” he said.
“That was the message (to the players) before the game, that was the message at halftime, and unfortunately we didn’t respect the ball enough.
“When you get to the knockout stages, in a semi-final or final, you only get one or two opportunities, and if you don’t use those, you will find yourself (losing the game).”
Star playmaker Cecil Afrika cut a frustrated figure afterwards, and echoed Powell’s sentiments.
“We made too many mistakes and didn’t keep our possession or respect it. You only get so many opportunities in a semi-final compared to the pool stage,” Afrika told IOL Sport.
“So, if we are not going to make use of it, then the results won’t be good. I won’t say the guys were over-eager when we had the ball, as there was good intent when we had the opportunities.”
The Blitzboks nearly came unstuck against Canada in the third-place playoff, a match which nobody really wants to play, as they missed a number of tackles once more.
But the playoff does have value in the World Sevens Series with regards to log points, and at least Philip Snyman’s team bagged 17 for the weekend to take them to 39, two behind log-leaders New Zealand, who beat Argentina 38-14 in the Cape Town final on Sunday night.
Blitzboks 19 – Tries: Siviwe Soyizwapi, Ruhan Nel, Rosko Specman. Conversions: Justin Geduld (2).
Canada 17 – Tries: Harry Jones, Nathan Hirayama (2). Conversion: Hirayama (1).