South Africa must prove it was just a bad day at the office in Singapore when they front up in the Vancouver Sevens, writes DYLAN JACK.
Having gone into the Singapore leg of the World Sevens Series on the back of four tournament wins in Dubai and Spain and a 34-game unbeaten run, the Blitzboks were hot favourites to continue this form in Southeast Asia.
However, the return of Fiji and New Zealand from pandemic-enforced isolation proved to add a different dimension to the tournament.
Prior to the tournament getting under way, New Zealand-based rugby writer Sam Smith wrote that the Blitzboks would have to prove their prior achievements were no fluke.
“New Zealand and Fiji, meanwhile, will be out to remind the world that the Blitzbokke were just keeping their seats warm,” Smith wrote. “While form and performance can fluctuate from week to week and competition to competition, it’s worth looking back at last year’s rescheduled Olympics Games to get a feel for how the three top sides in the world might fare in Singapore.”
Many, including this writer, scoffed at the very suggestion that the Springbok Sevens team had not earned their current top spot on the series log, and Fiji suffering a historic first loss to Ireland on day one seemed to confirm the Pacific Islanders would not simply resume their place as sevens rugby’s best nation.
Meanwhile, the Blitzboks extended their unbeaten run to 36 with straightforward wins over Canada and Kenya, setting up a Pool A finale with USA. However, from there on, the Blitzboks seemed to collapse.
Perry Baker scored a last-gasp winner for USA and sent the Blitzboks on a collision course in the quarter-finals with old foes Fiji, who finished top of Pool D by beating France and Japan.
This was it. A chance for the Blitzboks to prove how far they had come as a group, that they weren’t just seatwarmers, as Smith wrote. Unfortunately, the 19-14 win to Fiji flattered the Blitzboks. Worryingly, the South Africans were bested in two areas they take immense pride in: defence and the breakdown.
That trend continued in an even more one-sided fashion when Argentina condemned the Blitzboks to a third successive loss, robbing them of the consolation of a fifth-place finish.
Another concerning pattern emerged where the Blitzboks surrendered an early lead and would bank on their ability to fight back. This was already prevalent in Spain and cannot be allowed to continue for much longer. There were also uncharacteristic handling errors, far too much individualistic play and mistimed or overcooked passes.
Ultimately, Smith was proved right as Fiji and New Zealand contested the Singapore final, and the former team came away with a deserved 28-17 victory in a thrilling finale.
The Blitzboks simply have to come back firing in Vancouver this weekend. Neil Powell and Siviwe Soyizwapi were both refreshingly blunt in their assessment of the failure in Singapore, with Powell calling it a “wake-up call” ahead of the Cape Town-based Sevens World Cup in September.
Everything the Blitzboks are doing now is targeted towards winning that tournament on home soil. If we are being honest, a bad tournament was likely due for the Blitzboks.
The high standards that are set within the camp means that it’s likely this was just a case of a bad day at the office. However, a repeat of South Africa’s shoddy day-two performances in Canada would be real cause for concern.
Blitzboks’ pool schedule (SA time):
Saturday, 16 April:
20h15: vs Spain
23h26: vs Canada
Sunday, 17 April:
03h33: vs Australia
Photo: Twitter: @Blitzboks