In these dark times for South African rugby, Neil Powell’s Blitzboks are truly a shining light.
To be honest, their excellence in this season’s World Sevens Series campaign has been in stark contrast to the South African Rugby Union (Saru) and Springboks’ troubles.
The Blitzboks’ title-winning campaign in Wellington at the weekend was so comprehensive, people are wondering whether they actually can be stopped this season.
What are the main factors that have led them to perform so brilliantly?
They boast once-in-a-generation players
No-one doubts head coach Powell has instilled a sense of collective pride in this side.
The players really do play for each other and put the team first.
But it can’t be denied that the Blitzboks also possess players with unique talents.
Seabelo Senatla, who is now South Africa’s leading try-scorer in the sevens format, is the ultimate player – a ruthless finisher with a high work-rate.
Cecil Afrika, Kyle Brown and Rosko Specman are specialists who live and breathe sevens rugby.
They’ve dedicated their careers to constantly improving as players suited to the format.
How they cope with Senatla and Kwagga Smith, who’ll now focus on 15-man rugby, remains to be seen though.
Local rugby is notoriously bad at keeping continuity.
Since re-admission in 1992, the Springboks have never promoted an assistant of a head coach to replace him once his term ends.
Despite making sense – especially when the system was successful – our administrators and coaches always want change, whether its good or not.
Thankfully, the Blitzboks are different.
Powell was the successful Paul Treu’s assistant before taking over from him.
He digested what he learnt, adapted it and put his own stamp on things.
It took a while to bear fruit but the results have justified his appointment.
Their game-plan is boringly unique
When people think about sevens, they imagine beautiful side-steps, searing pace from a player and plenty of tries.
But the format is far more technical than that.
The basic principle of running rugby is that you need the ball.
And to use that possession effectively, you need the ball to come quickly to you without any hitches.
The Blitzboks have pounced on that.
They don’t want to score tries.
Rather, the players focus on taking possession away from their opponents.
South Africa have completed the most tackles this season (394) by far – Werner Kok made 60 alone this weekend in Wellington – and are pests at the breakdown.
By disrupting their opponents, the Blitzboks create opportunities on the counter-attack from themselves.
Every player knows his role
The Blitzboks believe in having two “first teams” in every match.
It means one group of seven players start the match and then three replacements come on virtually immediately when the second half starts.
As Specman puts it: “It’s a system that works wonders. Every player’s responsibility is the same. You are expected to lift the intensity whenever you are on the field, whether you’re a starting member or a substitute.”
Clearly, no-one seems offended by this “division of labour”.