Side Entry: Why can’t the Boks learn from the Blitzboks?

Simnikiwe Xabanisa.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa.

Johannesburg - Whenever the Blitzboks appear on the podium for winning yet another World Rugby Sevens event, rugby fans ask: How is it that this team fares so much better than the Springboks?

Watching the Blitzboks and Springboks’ fortunes is a bit like keeping up with the Kardashians: everyone knows Kanye West is the gifted one, yet his wife Kim – whose fame is still a mystery to me – appears to be the star.

A case in point is what happened with the two teams’ results last year, when both were off-colour. The Blitzboks finished second in the World Series and won South Africa’s first rugby bronze at the Olympics, while the Boks lost an unprecedented eight games.

The latter are supposed to be SA Rugby’s main brand, but one has to admit that our real ambassadors are now the Blitzboks.

They may not have won the World Series since 2009, but throughout this time, they have remained passionate – constantly elbowing for room at the business end of subsequent tournaments and winning Commonwealth gold in 2014. By contrast, the last time the Boks were consistently competitive was in 2009.

The Blitzboks have shown an improvement this year, winning three out of the four events staged in the new season and making it to the finals of a tournament which, although they did not win, clinched them 85 log points out of a possible 88.

The Springboks’ many issues, from uncertainty about their coach to the kind of game they want to play, have been well documented.

Right path

But how is it possible for the Sevens team to thrive while their Bok counterparts have nose-dived?

One ironic answer could be that SA Rugby is in full control of the Sevens programme, whereas the Boks’ schedule is not entirely in its hands.

Sevens coach Neil Powell is contracted by SA Rugby, as are his players, so they are free to get on with their work without the interference of provincial unions or, lately, European or Japanese clubs.

It helps that the Sevens are a small team and can keep out of the glare of a blissfully unaware South African public and its provincial unions, but the right things have also been done in putting the Sevens side together.

The first was choosing coach Paul Treu, who set a fine example and got the ball rolling by playing for the Sevens between 1999 and 2003, and becoming head coach in 2004 until his resignation in 2013. Keeping his successor, Powell, on, regardless of how often he came close to winning without doing so, was also a good move.

That the Sevens have a permanent base in Stellenbosch and do not move around the country like their Bok counterparts, is another plus.

While SA Rugby should not be excused for the shambles it made in appointing beleaguered Bok coach Allister Coetzee and his assistants, and for the paralysis which still sees the team without a rugby director or an Under-20 coach, the rugby union seems to be on the right path, having narrowed down the number of people who can decide on the national coach.

It is not so much about having SA Rugby take the Boks under its wing, but rather, learning from the successes of a Sevens team of its own creation.

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