Jon Cardinelli

Saffas end 2017 on low note

Fiji break away to score against South Africa in Cape Town Fiji break away to score against South Africa in Cape Town

The Blitzboks – like the Springboks – delivered a substandard performance in the final tournament of the year, writes JON CARDINELLI.

One couldn’t help but feel a little flat when leaving the Cape Town Stadium on Sunday evening. After all the hype, after all the build-up, the Blitzboks finished the Cape Town Sevens in third place.

The fans certainly did their part to add to the spectacle over the course of the tournament. The mass celebration that followed Seabelo Senatla's 200th try on day one was something special.

Yet day two ended with New Zealand lifting the Cape Town Sevens trophy. The result marked a disappointing end to a great year for the Blitzboks.

We’ve come to expect a certain standard from these Blitzboks. Neil Powell’s charges dominated the 2016-17 World Rugby Sevens Series via a well balanced approach. They won the recent tournament in Dubai on the back of another fine defensive performance.

They failed to live up to their own high standards in Cape Town, though. This much was evident on day one. While they racked up big scores against Russia, France and Kenya – and only conceded three tries across those pool matches – they slipped tackles and gave away soft penalties with frightening regularity.

Senatla has been a terrific servant to South African rugby. He deserves credit for the match-winning contributions he has made in the past. One would expect him to play a key role for the team at major tournaments in future.

The winger won’t remember this particular tournament as one of his best, though. Indeed, at times the team as a whole lacked discipline, accuracy and physicality.

This was apparent in the quarter-final against Fiji, and again in the semi-final against New Zealand. For some reason, the players failed to deliver the type of performances that earned them the Sevens Series title earlier this year.

The upshot? For the second successive year, the Blitzboks finished the Cape Town Sevens without any silverware.

The result as well as the performance marked a disappointing end to the year for South African rugby in general. On 2 December, the Boks went down to Wales in Cardiff to finish the 2017 season with a seven from 13 record.

The Blitzboks are a well-coached, well-conditioned, and well-drilled unit. The never-say-die attitude, a product of a strong team culture, earned them some big wins across the 2016-17 Sevens Series.

By contrast, the Boks were poorly coached and managed in 2017, and failed to win many of the tight contests. There were a few surprising scorelines – such as the 57-0 debacle in Albany and the 38-3 capitulation in Dublin – but not many surprising results. The Boks didn’t deserve to win more than seven Tests this year.

The Blitzboks are a better team than their recent performances in Cape Town suggest. Last season, they led the way in terms of physicality and defence. They were an attacking threat whether they were running from deep or utilising their kicking game to exploit the space behind the opposition.

While it’s too soon for a side of this quality to panic, the wobble against Fiji and the defeat to New Zealand must serve as an important lesson going forward.

Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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