It’s a BIG year for sevens! Preparation and planning for the Olympic Games is crucial and those teams that finish in the top four of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Sseries will automatically go through to Tokyo 2020 and with that, have a great opportunity, along with hosts Japan, to have a bit of a head start over the other teams.
Two years ago, all three medalists in Brazil automatically qualified and that’s no coincidence. Both gold medalists in Rio, Fiji in the men and Australia in the women’s event, won the series in the qualification year.
Form doesn’t find you, you need to work and prepare for it and currently, it’s the South African side under Neil Powell that heads the pack.
Neil has done a quite brilliant job in his tenure of putting together a sevens programme that is the best in the world. They have led the way in that respect and the pioneering work of Paul Treu before Neil also helped lay these foundations.
Neil is a coach who likes to be in the dark and let the players have the light. He leads with authority and a quiet confidence that many other coaches can learn from. He deserves all the success he gets.
I remember seeing the Blitzbok players after they had just lost out to Great Britain by 7-5 in the semi-final in Rio and with it, their dream of a gold medal gone. They were the most gracious team I have seen in defeat and I remember thinking that sort of behaviour reflected the culture Neil and the management and the team have created.
I’d have put my house on them winning the next World Series after that and sure enough since then it’s been back to back series wins. This season, I think the title race will again be a tight affair as New Zealand and Fiji will undoubtedly take out tournaments and the fight between those three teams will be titanic.
The Cape Town leg of the World Series is one all the teams absolutely love. I have been lucky enough to coach teams in George, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. I loved them all, but Cape Town leads the experiences I’ve had over here – it really is magnificent.
You won’t see this, but the players areas and the food and nutritional stuff given to the players here is the best in the series, and is truly world class. In fact, I “plagiarised” a fair slice of the menus they use over the weekend for the Fiji team and their Rio preparation so thank you to South Africa!
Apart from that, the atmosphere is amazing and the supporters create a vibe that just gets the best out of all the teams. I can’t wait to see all the action unfold and good luck to all the teams in Cape Town – I have a feeling we might be in for an extra time, last play dramatic win for someone this year.
The former scrumhalf also coached England from 2007 to 2013, when he moved to Fiji, who won the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2014/15 under his guidance. We’re honoured to hear from Ben for this edition of Springbok Magazine.
Note: This column first appeared in Springbok Magazine.