CAPE TON - If you want a rough idea of how disappointed Blitzboks fans were when their beloved team got knocked out of Cup contention at the Cape Town leg of the 2017/18 World Sevens Series, you just have to think back to how excited they were in the build-up to the event.
Or think of how the brimful stadium suddenly displayed visible gaps once the Kiwis made sure that the Springbok Sevens side wouldn’t progress further than the semi-final (no, that wasn’t because everyone went to grab a drink - it was also significantly more ‘open’ around the stadium following the defeat).
But none of those fans would have been more disappointed than the Blitzboks themselves. It should also be said, however, that the Blitzboks let themselves down on Day Two.
On Day One, the hosts convincingly beat Russia, France and Kenya (yes, the first two aren’t the toughest opposition - but in Sevens, anything can happen). But on Day Two, in their comeback quarter-final win over Fiji, some of the mistakes that would later prove costly showed.
The South Africans came back from a 21-12 half time deficit to secure the victory, and after the match, coach Neil Powell said that he hoped that would be their only wake-up call on the day.
But it wasn’t. And when the Blitzboks ran out against New Zealand, their continued impatience with ball in hand, their loss of composure and the uncharacteristically sketchy defence all contributed to their campaign ending earlier than expected.
The sense of “team” that the Blitzboks usually radiate was missing as well and replaced with more individual play, while their failure to look after the ball - whether it was due to knock-ons or forced passes or conceding possession in whatever other way -resulted in a number of missed scoring opportunities and the opposition pouncing on those mistakes.
But why did things unravel for the Blitzboks?
Maybe the Blitzboks’ shortcomings were partly due to the little time they spent together prior to the opening Dubai leg, as many of their players spent a lot of time playing in the 15-man game during their off-season. Maybe all those Fifteens habits acquired over the season played a part. Or maybe the pressure, all the hype that was all over Cape Town last week, added to the pressure, pressure that later became too much for a team still finding their rhythm. Or perhaps the hyped-up Cape Town event sparked a bit of confidence. Too much confidence ... confidence that brought complacency. I don’t know. In fact, I doubt any of the above was to blame for what went down at the Cape Town Stadium.
But one thing that I do know is that the Blitzboks, a team who have been the shining light in a dark time for South African rugby, have everything it takes to learn from their disappointing home tournament and return even better in Australia in January. They just have to find what worked for them before. And they just need to stick to it.
Following their bronze-medal finish against Canada later on Sunday, skipper Philip Snyman - the only South African to be included in the Dream Team for the Cap Town leg - said that their home leg was the only one recently that didn’t feel like they played as a team.
“I think it was the first time in many tournaments that we didn’t feel we played as a team. The guys were more individual, and overall I’m not happy with the way we performed,” he said.
“I’m happy that we could finish with a win, but I’m not happy with how we performed in the tournament.”
“Unfortunately we didn’t stick to our game plan and our structures. We’re not focused on results, only on our processes, and unfortunately we can’t tick the box of processes in this tournament.”
“We had our chances in the New Zealand game and unfortunately we missed one or two tries and they capatalised on our mistakes.”
Snyman also said that there could be no excuses made on their part, and that it’s all abouth shifting their focus to the Sydney event (January 26-28) after their December break.
“It was a hectic week in the build-up to the home tournament, but we don’t want to make any excuses. I think New Zealand were better than us and I think they’re going to be capable of winning a couple of tournaments this season.”
“We pride ourselves that we can never be faulted for our effort, and I think the guys showed that. there was nothing wrong with our effort, everybody put a lot of effort in, but when you don’t stick to the game plan or the structure you let other teams into the game or give them opportunities.”
“It was massive, the crowd were tremendous right from the first game we played. It was a full stadium like every other game we played in. even when we lost to New Zealand we got a massive cheered from the crowd. They showed that they still support us.”