In a way, the hammering we suffered in the Sydney Sevens final is a massive compliment to the BlitzBokke. Don’t get me wrong, 29-0 hurt like hell on the day but stand back and think about it dispassionately. For the last few years we have captivated the circuit and last year we dominated. Instead of just playing attacking expansive explosives sevens, Neil Powell added the final piece of the jigsaw, aggressive defence.
For the first time in years we saw massive Fijians not just stopped but knocked backwards by comparatively tiny South African players, and from this pressure turnovers occurred that were easily turned into tries. We set the agenda in the same way that the All Blacks have done in the fifteen man game. The rest of the world looked on in awe. Then plans were laid and some came to fruition last week. Be warned.
Initially it looked like a walk in the park for us. Then I saw the semi-final and the Australians putting away the Argentinians with disdain. The Aussies were big. They had explosive power but it was now allied to speed and fitness. An unlikely gangling giant called Ben O’Donnell caused havoc every time he touched the ball. The ability they had to cut down space in attack was awesome. I remember thinking we will struggle in the final.
Maybe it was fanciful but I noticed Werner Kok smiling and winking at someone during the anthem and the dreaded word “overconfidence” sprung to mind. In sport there is a fine line between confidence and its dreadful cousin, hubris. How do you define that barrier? I think it is the point where fear of losing is discarded. You have to have it as a final motivator to be a winner. When it is not there, faults creep in and multiply.
Okay, had Rosco scored it might have been different but I don’t think so. The Australians played it tight and close and also cut down space wherever it appeared. They took us on physically and tackles that last year were made, were broken. The plans that were laid on the yellow drawing board were plain to see on the pitch. In the end it was a massacre. Forget parochial bias. It was a master class in planning and executing the plan and overcoming excellence. The question is how do we now react?
We have injuries to some of our more powerful players and that is a handicap. However, all teams suffer this in modern rugby. The point is that every top side we play will now try and emulate the Australian winning tactics. They will take it up and grind and apply massive pressure on defence. They smell blood. What would you do? Put Sydney down to a bad day at the office and just try more of the same? I think not. Powell is too smart.
I fancy in Hamilton we will kick more to negate the gang tackling that will come. As they charge up we will chip and chase but as a deliberate policy, and with numbers involved. Normally kicking in sevens is a death wish as you give away possession but this will be different. It will be controlled and ruthless and new. It will slow the line speed and allow us the space to weave our magic. Or will it be something else?
I fear sevens because it could destroy my game in the same way that T20 has done to test cricket. However it is evolving at top level and, in a way, is a microcosm of its big brother. How will we evolve tactics to compete with the evolution of those against us? Hamilton will provide a clue and it will be fascinating.
The next question is how will we start to evolve fifteens rugby tactics to enable us to compete and beat the best? Or are we so bogged down in politics and scandal that our eyes are off the ball. Maybe we are smiling and winking at the internal anthem that is being sung. I hope not.