5 Have your say
The New Zealand Sevens team showed their dominance of the South African leg of the Sevens world series after winning their fourth consecutive World series Sevens title in Africa last weekend.
France were annihilated 47-12 in the final at Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium by New Zealand claim the title.
In so doing, New Zealand entrenched themselves in the history books to become the first team to win four tournament titles in a row of the same world series leg.
The historic win was also the perfect birthday present for coach Gordon Tjetjens.
Organisers should just be a bit worried though, as the first day on Saturday featured a relatively poor turnout on the terraces.
In fact, according to news reports the two-days of competition had seen four thousand less fans in attendance compared to last year.
The second day on Sunday was much better admittedly, as local supporters buoyed by the fact that the Boks had made it to the quarter-finals, pitched up in droves at the sun-baked stadium.
The tournament is labelled “Rugby’s biggest party” and Sunday was more evidence of it, as opposed to the opening day. Spectators dressed in unusual frocks, that ranged from Roman-era outfits to swimgear, turned the stadium into a sea of colour.
Unfortunately for the Boks, following a poor display in Dubai the previous week they lost 12-5 to DJ Forbes’ charges in the semis, after the South Africans had earlier accounted for the US in the quarter-finals.
The Boks eventually secured third spot with a 35-0 demolition of Argentina.
Such was their showing in the third-place playoff, it had most South African fans wondering what might have been if they had taken a chance or two against the Kiwis in the semis.
Though Bok playmaker, Cecil Afrika, who in fact hails from Port Elizabeth, made a difference to the team after his absence in Dubai last week, management may have let him play one game too many.
Though threatening due to his vision and excellent reading of the game, Afrika whose knee was heavily bandaged, was without doubt, hamstrung by injury and may have denied his team some crucial points by not being able to run at full tilt.
New Zealand’s Ben Lam proved to be the game-breaker when, with the scores locked at 5-5 in the semi-final and only a few minutes left on the stadium clock, scored a breakaway try in the corner.
Tim Mikkelson got his hands on the ball from a turnover, threw it wide to playmaker, Tamasi Cama, who in turn fed Lam for the winning touchdown.
Lam, the big muscular player, who is quick and strong in the tackle, is giving this Sevens team important go-forward ball from which to mount attacks from virtually anywhere.
Bok supporters still had fresh in their minds New Zealand’s last-gasp effort that sank the Boks in last year’s final at the same venue. And many local supporters left the stadium more in disappointment than disgust, when the final whistle blew.
The Kiwis showed that they might not be invincible, judging by their poor display in their 24-12 loss to Fiji in the league phase, but their strength at the breakdown, tactical awareness and experience shaded the Boks.
Tjetjens it seemed had read his charges the riot act after the Fiji defeat the previous day, because New Zealand looked more focused, and a cohesive and determined unit on day two of competition.
In their quarterfinal New Zealand overpowered the Welsh with a 35-5 scoreline.
At the post-match interview after the final against the French, the inspirational Forbes gave credit to the huge support New Zealand continue to receive in the region.
A section of the stand was swathed in black as local supporters from the All Blacks supporters’ club willed their heroes on at every opportunity, be it at the training runs behind the posts between games, or during their matches.
Despite the disappointing turnout on Saturday at the stadium, Port Elizabeth’s metropole was bustling after the Sevens circus arrived in town earlier in the week.
Signing opportunities there were throughout the week for the fans at local malls and the New Zealanders, as well as the Boks, did not let the fans down engaging with them throughout and complying to their every whim.
At a gathering of all the teams at a local beachfront hotel on Friday night before the tournament opener the next day, I had a chance meeting with DJ Forbes, who was his usual accommodating self, agreeing to take pictures every time team admirers and fans approached the team for a picture.
Forbes, who is indeed a popular captain and leader, said his body was holding up well, despite the rigours of the Sevens game and that the team were keen to do well.
He was asked if he ever saw himself playing the 15-man version for the All Blacks, but added he didn’t mind playing Sevens as it was not as tough on the body as the 15-a-side game.
But that’s rather hard to believe, as Forbes by day two of the tournament, had taken a knock to the face, had stitches inserted in his upper lip and sat out one of the games after being upended in a previous encounter, courtesy of a dangerous tackle.
France’s coach Frederic Pomarel who was enjoying a relaxing moment in the hotel pub with his technical staff just moments after my chance meeting with Forbes, said his players were already sleeping and had prepared well for the tournament.
Pomarel said there were no easy matches in the tournament anymore and that the gap had narrowed between the top and bottom nations. For example, Portgual were also a surprise and continue to impress.
Then the Welsh technical staff arrived for a pint or two that prompted someone to say, “perfect venue for a team talk.”
Then there were a group of four English players, sitting quietly by themselves and tucking into huge helpings of fresh salads and grilled fish.
In fact reports are that a group of 16 chefs, who were specially hand-picked by the Hotel group, had already prepared and cooked
one 300kg of chicken for all the players involved in the series before the first day of competition!
A group of New Zealand players, which probably looked like the entire squad, suitably dressed in short-sleeve shirts and shorts and sandals, left the hotel on foot, for what seemed like a stroll on the beach.
They did seem relaxed – an ominous warning for what was to come I suppose.nd cooked
Kurt Baker, who has been excess baggage to the Auckland Blues at one time or another, starred for New Zealand scoring seven tries in the tournament with a hat-trick in the final.
Camu again showed why he is probably the best player at Sevens. The little general is probably the standout playmaker at every tournament and his uncanny knack of popping up at the right place at the right time, whether scoring or contributing, is unrivalled.
Fans however bemoaned the litany of dropped passes, or fumbled off-loads generally, across a lot of the teams on match days.
There also seemed to be a lack of individual brilliance, as fans enjoy seeing a wing or centre sprinting from way back for a touchdown, that didn’t occur too often as the game seems to be focused a lot on the set plays.
One fan kept asking what ball they were using at the Sevens tournament as he suggested the ball was twirling a lot when kicked in the air, which was actually true.
Nearest challengers Fiji tumbled out in the quarterfinals following a 15-12 loss to Argentina, and Samoa failed to even make the last eight after losses to Australia and South Africa in pool play, and they were the main disappointments of the weekend.
Australia got off to a poor start losing 31-5 to France and to South Africa 17-7. However they did beat Samoa 26-7 on the first day before edging them 26-14 in the bowl final on the second day.
Said Aussie coach Michael O’Connor:
“For me where we started yesterday (Friday) to where we finished was a marked improvement so we are very happy. We were in a tough pool and we didn’t start well,” the former Wallaby said.
“France were good and they are in a final, we had South Africa, we had Samoa. France won one game yesterday and they are in a final.
“I am never happy playing in a bowl, and it is always good to beat Samoa, they are a quality side.”
The Australia squad also showed their humanitarian side by taking time out to visit the Sinethemba Orphanage in Port Elizabeth ahead of the Sevens world series in Port Elizabeth.
It was the second year the Australian squad has visited the orphanage and a traddition they hope to continue as they look to support the work the Sinethemba Orphanage does.
According to their Sevens website, the team brought with them stationery, Australian children’s books and Australian pins and also shared their rugby knowledge with young children during their visit.
By all accounts they were a happy lot, and were clearly having fun with the children.
South Africa is sometimes not for the faint-hearted and people from abroad are often only exposed to the affluent side of South African way of life.
It is still a country where poverty, unemployment and deep social problems exist for many on the fringes of society.
So, a huge salute to the Aussies who showed it’s not just about the game, it’s about the people too.
On the overall series log, the All Blacks moved to 60 points, with France now second on 46 and Fiji third on 44. Three of the nine legs have been completed.
All in all, a fantastic Sevens weekend in Port Elizabeth, with the circus now moving on to Wellington on 1-2 February next year.