Strong Sevens season for Blitzbokke

15 May 2013

The South African Sevens team finished the HSBC Sevens World Series, which ended in London on Sunday, in second place, winning three tournaments along the way. Injuries were a constant thorn in the side of coach Paul Treu, affecting the side’s consistency.

Frankie Horne, however, was, as always, present at every stop of the World Series. In fact, Horne participated in a South African record 50th consecutive tournament in the London Sevens this past weekend.

“You don’t really focus on stuff like that. You tend to look more at team goals and what you want to achieve as a team,” Horne said modestly when interviewed by the International Rugby Board (IRB).

Dream Team

Horne was named in the first ever Sevens Dream Team after the conclusion of the World Series. Certainly, South Africa has other players capable of similar recognition, but coach Paul Treu was tested throughout the season by an ever-changing cast of players because of injuries.

“Obviously the aim was to win the series, but a range of crippling injuries and some inconsistent performances in Dubai, Wellington and Hong Kong cost us,” Treu told the South African Rugby Union (Saru).

“It was very special, though, to be the only team on the circuit to win three tournaments and the only one to win consecutive ones,” Treu added.

Slow start

The Blitzbokke began the season somewhat slowly. After four of the nine events, they were tied for fourth with Fiji on 51 points, trailing New Zealand (77), surprise package Kenya (56) and Samoa (54). Over the next five events, however, South Africa won three times, including a run of three titles in four tournaments.

One of the highlights of that run is the fact that their three wins in the Cup finals all came over New Zealand: 40-21 in Las Vegas, 24-19 in Tokyo and 28-21 in Edinburgh.

Inexplicably, they were at their worst in the Hong Kong Sevens, which took place between wins in Las Vegas and Tokyo. They finished bottom of their pool and ended up losing in the semi-finals of the Bowl. Wales, beaten 31-0 by South Africa in pool play, went on to lose by seven points to Fiji in the final of the Cup competition.

Playmakers

“We lost so many players due to injury at crucial times, but still the squad kept on working hard to achieve the results,” Treu said. “We had our two main playmakers, Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez, available for only four tournaments this year. The fact that we used 23 players is testament to the injury problems we had.”

Among those 23 players were eight newcomers to the national Sevens team. “I am pleased for the new guys and it is building depth with regards to the future. The series was tougher than ever and for us to win three tournaments was special. I believe our season was a success,” Treu added.

Cornal Fredericks finished the season as South Africa’s top points’ scorer, with his 38 tries giving him 190 points for the season. Only Brent Russell (46), Fabian Juries (41) and Cecil Afrika (40) have scored more tries in a season for South Africa.

World Cup

While the HSBC Sevens World Series is over, South Africa has an opportunity to add some extra shine to a very good season, which saw them improve from fifth in the previous campaign to second behind New Zealand this time around; the sixth edition of the Rugby World Cup Sevens takes place at the Luzniki Stadium in Moscow from 28 to 30 June, which should allow some of the Blitzbokke’s injured players to fully recover in time for the event.

It’s a title South Africa has never won. The closest they came to lifting the trophy was in 1997 in Hong Kong when Fiji edged SA 24-21 in the final.

The Fijians have twice won the World Cup, while New Zealand, England and Wales, a surprise winner in the last World Cup in 2009, have also lifted the trophy.

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