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15-man renaissance needed

The Blitzboks continue to make the nation proud, but it’s the 15-man game that needs to regain its swag.

Don’t get me wrong. The Blitzboks are this nation’s sporting darlings. The most integrated, dynamic sports team in the country. Never do you hear murmurings about quotas/targets/transformation. The best players play. The best coach coaches. The Blitzboks win tournaments. Surely there is a none too complicated message here for the 15-man game.

Continuity is key. Neil Powell’s Blitzboks reign is all about continuity. Last season his charges tended to stumble at the final hurdle. This year, they look all but unconquerable. Three tournaments played, three finals reached, two won.

The crowds at Wellington last weekend were abysmal. Perhaps because the All Blacks Sevens team is still in transition in the wake of Gordon Tietjens’ departure. The long-serving coach was at the helm for 22 years and won 12 Sevens Series titles during that time. Unquestionably, the Alex Ferguson of Sevens rugby coaching, he can also, like the former Manchester United boss, now add the word ‘Sir’ ahead of his name.

People should really also refer to the Blitzboks’ jet-heeled Seabelo Senatla as ‘Sir’. Such is his brilliance in this shortened version of the game. He scored a Blitzboks record 180th try in the final against Fiji. There are many people clamouring for the likes of Senatla, Kwagga Smith and Werner Kok to be included in the Springbok 15-man set-up. But is it as simple as it seems? Just as T20 cricket doesn’t examine skills as much as test cricket does, so Sevens rugby success is not an accurate gauge of 15-man ability. If this weren’t the case, then Fiji would be as dominant in the 15-man game as they are in Sevens. And that just ain’t so.

Sevens players operate in acres of space. If they have speed, strength and stamina chances are they will succeed. Senatla powers around hapless defenders at will. At test level however, he will get far less space to work with on attack. On defence he will be tested by the high ball and his tackling will be closely scrutinised. Ditto Kok. In fact, what would be his best position? Tearaway flank? Barn-storming wing or centre. He would probably have to learn an entire new position in the 15-man game. Then again, if they are never tested, we will never know.

The Blitzboks’ success deserved to be hugely celebrated, but the 15-man game is a completely different beast. And South Africa’s once fearsome global reputation was built on multiple successes at test level.

If continuity is indeed key, then perhaps Allister Coetzee needs another year in which to get things right. Any which way you want to look at it, the Springboks need to swiftly regain that aura which once made them universally feared.

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