There is an anticipation in Cape Town for this weekend’s Cape Town Sevens that rivals, possibly even exceeds, the rugby fever felt when the All Blacks were in the city a few months ago.
This weekend will showcase everything that is good about South African rugby and everything that can be good about the game in this country. The rugby fever is because of a winning South African national team, who are without question currently the best Sevens team on the planet.
The Blitzboks were brilliant in winning the World Rugby Seven Series title last season and they were equally impressive in backing that up with victory against New Zealand in this season’s opening tournament in Dubai.
The Blitzboks are also a very popular team on the global circuit and in this country they are the most popular rugby team. Fans want to support winners and they also want to support a team that balances the on-field genius with humility. The Blitzboks have never struggled with this balance.
The tournament will also be hosted at the Cape Town Stadium, which is a world-class facility, comparable with the best sports stadiums internationally. The location isn’t easily rivalled.
And if there are no issues with queues for beers, then this weekend will be a spectator highlight. The tournament is already one the players have rated as being the best experience on the Sevens circuit.
What I love about the anticipation of this weekend’s rugby is that South Africans are buzzing at the prospect of seeing their own team’s best perform. When the All Blacks were in town the focus was on their superstars and it was taken as a given that the All Blacks would win.
The Springboks, as has been the custom in recent years, were playing for pride in a tournament the All Blacks had already won. It certainly detracted from the occasion. There wasn’t the edge we’ll witness this weekend, and to back up this statement I’ll refer you to last season’s Sevens final between England and South Africa at the Cape Town Stadium. It was a magnificent occasion, played in front of a capacity crowd of 50 000. England won, which made for an even more remarkable final because they played hosts South Africa.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see these two teams battle it out again in this weekend’s final. I was as surprised as England’s players when New Zealand rolled them in the semi-final in Dubai because while New Zealand look an improved side from the shambles of 2016, they don’t look particularly imposing.
South Africa, based on Dubai, look a class apart, with England and Fiji the best of the chasing pack. Then I’d lump New Zealand with a host of others, which includes Kenya and Australia.
It may be a dream right now, but imagine the day when it can be written that the Springboks look a class apart and that England and the All Blacks are the best of the chasing pack?
That surely has to be the decision-making motivation when South Africa’s rugby bosses review Allister Coetzee’s two-year tenure.
Coetzee, unfortunately, doesn’t inspire such thought. The coach declared himself satisfied with the Springboks of 2017 and applauded the improvement from 2016’s four wins in 12 Tests.
It is mindboggling that he could even have made a comparison because it simply couldn’t have gotten worse this season.
Coetzee’s ambition as the Springbok coach does not match the aspirations of the greater South African rugby public, who still believe that excellence is possible and that the Springboks consistently can be a top three team; not the top 6 donkeys Coetzee currently wants to present as thoroughbreds in training.
I was asked the question earlier in the week whether Coetzee is the only one to blame for the results. Emphatically, yes. It is the nature of being a professional coach and especially being the national coach.
He chose the team and must take responsibility for the results.
Coetzee would be feted and rewarded exclusively if the Springboks were ranked one in the world. He would have been given all the accolades for being a great selector, manager of players and coach if the Boks were the best.
But they are not and there shouldn’t even be a debate as to whether or not Coetzee gets a stay of execution beyond the December 13 General Council meeting.
For now, even if only for this weekend, we can forget about Coetzee and his bumbling Boks and focus our attentions on another set of Boks, who understand excellence and who are the best in the world.
What an appealing thought; what an appealing weekend. What a luxury for the many Springbok rugby diehards.
Make the most of it.
Wear green this weekend knowing it is the colour of champions and not chumps.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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