Getting serious about sevens

SIMON BORCHARDT says sevens will never matter to the majority of South African rugby fans as long as the national team is made up of high-school graduates and provincial rejects.

A week ago, a poll on keo.co.za asked: ‘Do you care about the IRB Sevens World Series?’ Of the 994 readers who voted over the next two days, 71% said no.

That didn’t surprise me. After all, why should fans care about a tournament that doesn’t involve top-quality players?

In a recent interview with SA Rugby magazine, Bok Sevens coach Paul Treu told the story of a meeting he had with Rassie Erasmus about calling up two WP U21 players to the sevens squad. Erasmus turned down the request, saying there was a chance they’d be needed in Super Rugby.

You have to feel sorry for Treu. He cannot select any contracted provincial player without the permission of the province, and is forced to rely on youngsters who aren’t yet ready to play professional rugby or older guys who can no longer command a starting place at their unions.

I don’t buy the argument that our sevens players want to be sevens specialists because they prefer the format to 15-man rugby. When Fabian Juries, a sevens legend, was offered a contract with the Cheetahs, he didn’t hesitate to put pen to paper. Ex-SA Sevens captain Mzwandile Stick did the same when Eastern Province – a First Division Currie Cup team – came calling. In this country, representing the national sevens side is a consolation prize and nothing more.

That would change, though, if Treu was allowed to pick Vodacom Cup players for the Sevens World Series and Saru paid those unions compensation. How can a B-grade provincial competition that nobody cares about be a higher priority than an international series?

Treu should also be allowed to pick two or three Boks for the South African leg of the World Series in December. If the event is moved from George to PE or Cape Town next year, the organisers will have to attract crowds of 45,000 a day – not just 8,000 – and will therefore need crowd pullers like Gio Aplon and Ryan Kankowski (two former sevens players who have gone on to bigger and better things).

Before I get an e-mail from Prof Tim Noakes about burnout, Treu obviously wouldn’t be allowed to pick someone who’s played more than 1,400 minutes that season and desperately needs a break. Those who are selected would only play a maximum of 90 minutes of sevens rugby if South Africa reached the final, and sevens is obviously a lot less physical than the 15-man game.

Getting top-quality players (provincial and Boks) involved in the Sevens World Series from the 2011-12 season would make it that much easier for them to be brought into an Olympic Games squad that can realistically expect to win a gold medal in 2016.

Yes, sevens is a lot of fun, but it’s time we got serious about it.

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