Sevens system showing the way

The Springboks can learn a number of lessons from an effective sevens system that has resulted in consistent success for the Blitzboks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

On Saturday, the Springbok Sevens side finally shed some light on a gloomy South African rugby landscape with an inspiring charge to the Dubai Sevens title.

The Blitzboks were simply sensational as they powered past New Zealand and then comfortably overcame Fiji in the gold medal final, with the team’s organisation on defence and ferocity at the breakdown proving to be just as impressive as their clinical attack.

Glaringly, the understanding, balance and cohesion of the Blitzboks side stood in stark contrast to a Springbok team that has bumbled their way from one disappointing result to another this year.

Of course, sevens and fifteens are two very different games, but what should not be overlooked is the value of the long-term preparation, conditioning work, player identification and succession planning that has ensured the Blitzboks have remained a force to be reckoned with on the World Rugby Sevens stage.

Over the last three seasons, the Blitzboks have finished as runners-up in the world series, and while they have battled to take the final step to title success, the margins have been miniscule, while their consistency has been mightily impressive. And on the basis of this past weekend’s efforts in Dubai, this unified team of sevens regulars must be regarded as favourites to go all the way this season.

In many regards, the Blitzboks are reaping rewards of the planning and work that has gone on behind the scenes at the Sevens Academy, where manager Marius Schoeman and Springboks Sevens coach Neil Powell have dovetailed to great effect.

Working in four-year cycles, Schoeman and Powell have developed a carefully considered scouting manual that has helped them identify the potential of players such as Werner Kok and Kwagga Smith from a young age, while the likes of Justin Geduld, Cheslin Kolbe, Dylan Sage and Seabelo Senatla have all come through the sevens system.

Understanding the style of play that Powell envisages for the Blitzboks, Schoeman conducts the scouting process with this in mind as he looks to ensure there is a readily available feeder system of players to suit that game plan and to be able to filter into the Springbok Sevens system when needed.

The sevens system also prioritises careful consideration when it comes to succession planning, with an understanding of which individuals are nearing the end of their prime, and ensuring similarly suited players are then ready to step into the breach.

Beyond that, the sevens academy runs a highly efficient conditioning programme that has ensured the players throughout the system are supremely fit and capable of keeping pace with the intensity of the sevens game.

Furthermore, the Sevens Academy side aims to replicate the style of play that the Blitzboks employ, with this uniformity ensuring players are able to seamlessly make the transition to the next level if called upon.

Ultimately, fundamental factors such as conditioning, cooperation, uniformity and  succession planning have ensured the sevens system continues to produce some of the best players in the world game, while constantly fueling the continued success of the Blitzboks.

Yet, while those are buzzwords that have defined the Blitzboks’ progression, they are neglected factors that have contributed to the downfall of the Springboks.

What the Springbok Sevens system has proven is that there is a blueprint in SA Rugby that is working, and one that should be applied where possible in an imminent overhaul of the game that aims to realign a system to similarly benefit the Boks.

Photo: Tom Dulat/World Rugby

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Craig Lewis