The Cape Town Sevens is a rare, feel-good story in an otherwise demoralising feed of South African rugby news.
It took 16 unsuccessful attempts to launch the SA leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series to work out that the country’s most popular tourist destination – the one that’s home to the iconic Table Mountain, which serves as the breath-taking backdrop to the city’s premier sports facility – is a better venue than, say, Port Elizabeth.
Better late than never, and the quality of the event is matched by the quality of our team. How good are the Blitzboks? Answer: the best! South Africa are the defending World Rugby Sevens Series champions and they kicked off this season with a Cup victory in Dubai last week. Hopefully they’ll go all the way on Sunday!
You’ve been waiting for the ‘but’, and here it comes… can we please get a little bit of perspective on the whole Sevens thing?
I mean, it’s great that South Africa is doing well and all, but the chasm between Sevens and Test rugby is too big to cross with the leap in logic that suggests the Springboks are just a few Neil Powell pep talks away from restoring their Test rugby reputation.
At the big rugby schools, some of the most entertaining games to watch on a Saturday morning are the ones involving the B and C teams.
While U16A matches are usually dominated by whichever team boasts the most players destined for the pro ranks, the lower-tier matches are contested by players who will probably never be paid to catch and pass.
A balanced contest plays out in the absence of a rumbling, 105kg eighthman or a winger that runs a sub-11, 100.
While a timid inside centre would be exposed playing for the As, he’s not much of a liability for the Cs where the opposing 12 is equally as nervous about damaging the cerebral cortex he’ll require to complete a post-graduate IT certification in a few years.
It makes for an entertaining spectacle and that feeds the parents’ post-match chinwag about the nefarious reasons their kids aren’t getting a look-in higher up.
Sevens is the pro equivalent of B- and C-team rugby.
The minnows, who don’t have the resources to be Test contenders, send their best players; the traditional powerhouse rugby nations send their leftovers and, presto, almost anyone can win on the day.
It’s a great concept that bridges the gap between the heavyweights and the flyweights to deliver rugby’s only truly credible, global contest.
This point seems to have evaded some SA Sevens fans who believe that the Springboks should just trace the Blitzboks’ homework to achieve the same results. Impossible.
Almost everything about Test rugby is different to Sevens, including conditioning as it relates to the shape, speed and intensity of the game, the quality of opponents, and the premium on a narrower scope of skills executed at a higher standard. And we haven’t even delved into media expectation, political and boardroom meddling, and the unprecedented player access Powell enjoys.
These differences explain why the Blitzboks aren’t mainstays in the upper echelons of the 15-man game.
It’s impossible not to grin in anticipation whenever Branco du Preez or Rosko Specman touch the ball, Cecil Afrika is a cunning playmaker and who doesn’t admire Kwagga Smith’s relentless competitiveness? But, aside from world-class sprinter Seabelo Senatla, none of South Africa’s Sevens stalwarts should have a shot at reaching the World Cup in Japan in 2019.
These Sevens standouts are probably on the Bok radar, and that’s because the incumbent Bok selectors have tried to sell the likes of Ross Cronje and Courtnall Skosan as legitimate Test options. Who would you rather have at scrumhalf: Cronje or Du Preez? And Specman is surely as good a wing prospect as Skosan?
Bok rugby is doomed if what we learn from these inept selections is that Sevens players are good enough for Test rugby. I’ll be backing our boys to deliver a few knockouts at Cape Town Stadium this week, but there’s no chance they could go 12 rounds with the real All Blacks.