Blitzboks are beasts of burden
Cape Town - The Blitzboks winning the tournament is not imperative to the enjoyment those who attend the Cape Town Sevens will derive from the event, but last year’s experience suggests it is important that the hosts stay in the running for the main prize until the final game.
The last couple of World Series events to be staged in Port Elizabeth and the first two in Cape Town (2015 and 2016) saw the Blitzboks make the final, according to the supersport.com website.
So in those years the tournament built up on the last day to a fitting and explosive climax.
The Blitzboks were beaten by England in the decider two years ago, but it didn’t matter - the local disappointment wasn’t felt until the tournament was effectively over.
But last year, when the Blitzboks were blown out by New Zealand in a mid-afternoon semi-final, it introduced a flat, anticlimactic atmosphere, with many punters heading for the gates at the same time as the South Africans made their exit.
The stands were only half full by the time the final arrived. And it could have been a lot worse - the fall off in interest could have happened much earlier in the day, before lunch, for the Blitzboks were lucky to survive their quarterfinal clash with Fiji, where they had to fight back from a big early deficit.
What will happen if the Blitzboks get blown out early on Sunday, or perish the thought, they lose to Samoa and New Zealand on a tough first day and start Sunday only in the running for consolation placings?
So there you have the reason why the Blitzboks might have good reason to feel that their home tournament is the one where they feel the most pressure. They carry a massive burden into the event and the load was probably heightened by the success enjoyed in the years preceding last season’s blip.
In some other tournaments, such as Hong Kong and Dubai, there isn’t the same reliance on the host team to carry the momentum through to the last game.
They are long-standing tournaments, there isn’t a host team that stands a realistic chance of winning the event, and the focus is on enjoyment of the entertainment provided - as should be the case at a Sevens tournament.
Hopefully the Blitzbok failure in Dubai last week, thus lessening local expectation considerably, will have the effect of negating the stampede for the gates that we saw when the Blitzboks were knocked out on the Sunday of last year’s tournament should it happen again this weekend.
The Cape Town Sevens has built up a considerable reputation on the circuit in a very short space of time, and there needs to be a crowd presence at the showpiece game of the tournament.
Hopefully the weather will play along, for the gale-force winds that buffeted the stadium last year probably also played a role in people leaving the ground early.
There’s been a bit of unseasonal rain about, but the forecast, certainly for the first day, is good.
With Justin Geduld recovering from injury, Blitzbok coach Neil Powell has named the same 12-man squad that did duty in Dubai last weekend.
It lacks the experience of the squads that represented the host nation in the last few South African legs of the World Series, but there are still enough experienced players around to guide the newcomers.
For instance, former skipper Kyle Brown is a veteran of 66 tournaments, and is closing in on the record, while Branco du Preez has been present at 62 World Series tournaments.
Skipper Philip Snyman has 55 to his credit, Werner Kok has done 38 and Rosko Specman 27. It is a good thing they have that sort of experience available, for the pressure is going to be intense over the next two days.
“We have learned lessons from last weekend, but that is also true for the other teams in the tournament,” said Powell.
“Everybody knows a little more of each other than was the case last week, so it will be tougher to break down defences, no doubt. That said, we know we can only improve from last week and that is a nice prospect.”
Powell said the focus remains on the first match against Samoa on Saturday.
“We had a tough battle against them in Dubai and this time it will not be different,” said Powell of their Pacific Island opponents, who were beaten 19-12 by the Blitzboks last weekend.
“They are a very physical side with some big, fast players and we will have to be very sharp for our opening match.”
They will indeed. The fast food vendors, the beer gardens and the other businesses that aim to make a profit out of the event depend on them to ensure their tills will still be clicking on Sunday afternoon.