The Blitzboks take on Fiji. Photo: Getty Images
After a 10-week break, the HSBC World Sevens Series returned this weekend, with the action taking place in Singapore from 9-10 April. At the outset, two main talking points were clear – the remarkable winning streak that the Blitzboks were enjoying, and the return of teams like Fiji and New Zealand, who had yet to compete in the 2022 series due to COVID restrictions.
I dragged myself out of bed after only four hours’ sleep on Saturday morning to watch the Blitzboks get off to a fantastic start with a 31-5 win against Canada. Well worth the early start to the day. Thereafter, they took on Kenya, and again were victorious, toppling the Kenyans 26-5. Truthfully, while both Canada and Kenya put up a good fight, they never really looked to be in it. But the winning streak that was literally all the match commentators could talk about was finally snapped, after 36 victories, when the Blitzboks took on the USA in their final pool match, going down 7-12. This saw them take the second-place spot in Pool A, and set up a quarter-final with Fiji.
Another early start on Sunday, although thankfully the night before did not involve a gig and 2am home time, and the Fijians came out guns blazing, with two tries in quick succession. The Blitzboks had looked out of sorts against the USA the day before, making uncharacteristic mistakes and lacking their usual precision and ruthlessness, and only scoring one try, towards the dying minutes of the game. They were closer to their usual selves against a very good Fiji side, but sadly it wasn’t enough. The Fijians took the game 19-14, and so the Blitzboks were out of the running, after 11 consecutive Cup quarterfinal wins, and after six consecutive Cup titles across the 2021/2022 series.
The team also went on to lose to Argentina in the fifth-place playoff, and coach Neil Powell was understandably disappointed in what was certainly an uncharacteristic display from a team that is undoubtedly excellent. He put it down to playing too much like individuals instead of as a team, which in itself is unusual for the Blitzboks, who are usually the very picture of synchronicity, and to giving away too many easy tries. He also suggested that it would act as a good wake up call for the team ahead of next week’s fixtures in Vancouver. I have no doubt that the Blitzboks will be back to winning ways soon enough, but it’s been interesting to see the reaction from some commentators, fans, and media – the phrase “tall poppy syndrome” comes to mind. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s when people criticize or attack those who have done particularly well. That the Blitzboks’ winning streak was snapped seemed to bring an inordinate amount of glee in some quarters, and a reminder that they’d been winning while the so-called “big boys” of Fiji and New Zealand were absent. At face value, this may seem like fair comment, given that Fiji and New Zealand were indeed the two teams battling it out in the final, with Fiji the ultimate victors. But it tends to overlook that the Blitzboks have been consistently successful over the years – perhaps not with 36 match winning streaks, or six consecutive Cups to their names, but successful, nonetheless. Indeed, other than a little slip down to 4th place in 2019, they’ve been 1st or 2nd in the world rankings every year since 2013 (and remain at number 1 despite this weekend’s defeats).
Rugby fans are fickle creatures, but the Blitzboks are such a joyous team, and have consistently made us proud, so I’d love to see South Africans continuing to support them instead of making silly comments about their wins being nothing more than fluke. Either way, I’m actually really happy for Fiji that they won after such a difficult period, and glad that all the teams are able to play again. It does serve to make things more competitive. Next weekend’s Vancouver Sevens promises to be a mouthwatering set of fixtures!
The Vancouver Sevens kick off on 16 April, and the Blitzboks are in Pool C with Australia, Spain, and Canada.