Through the years, sevens rugby has grown to become one of the most popular sports in the world. It is also the latest sport code to be added to the Olympic roster and will be played at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. After winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games this year, the Blitzboks – as the Springbok Sevens are affectionately known – will be medal contenders come Brazil.
In the run up to the Games, the nine-stop HSBC Sevens World Series 2014-15, which started in October 2014 and ends at Twickenham in May 2015, will decide who the best Sevens team in the world is, with the top four teams in the series automatically qualifying for the Olympic Games. The Blitzboks finished fourth in the first tournament of the series, held at the Gold Coast, Australia. Next up is Dubai on 5-6 December and Port Elizabeth on 13-14 December. Last season, the Blitzboks played in the final in Dubai and are the defending champions in Port Elizabeth.
One of the most important aspects of the Springbok Sevens set-up at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport is the team culture. Their vision is to be 'Pioneers of Greatness', while 'Touching people’s lives' is their mission. This wasn’t decided overnight though. It has its foundation from a team meeting held in Australia in 2006.
The Blitzboks have been pioneers of greatness by becoming the first South African sevens team to win the World Series (2008-9 season) and this year they made history when they beat New Zealand in the final of the Commonwealth Games, to become the first team ever to beat the All Blacks to the gold medal.
Any player wanting to make his mark in a national set-up can be challenging and when you have to buy in to a culture like this one, a set-up with clearly defined goals, the challenge can be even bigger if you aren’t ready for it.Ruhan Nel made his debut for the Blitzboks at the Gold Coast tournament held in October. He scored a hat-trick of tries in one of the games and it was clear that Nel had found his place in the team regarding form and buying into the team culture. According to Nel, fitting in was a bit stressful at the beginning, but that soon changed. “To be part of the same team as a guy like Cecil Afrika, who a few years ago was voted the best sevens player in the world, was mind blowing. The standard and quality of play and players in the squad is a big motivation to be better the whole time. For me, the basic principle of the culture is the desire to always keep on trying and always wanting to be better. You want to be the best possible teammate and player. You don’t want to disappoint the team or your teammates,” said Nel.
Many of the principles covered in the Springbok Sevens culture focus on what happens on the playing field, as well as what happens when players leave the field and how they live their lives. Said Nel, “Our culture is not only about rugby. It’s about how we live as well. We really are like a family, each with his own unique personality.”
In the end it is important that the culture of the team contributes to success on the field of play. “I think the culture we created is the reason for the team’s success. We all are working towards the same goal. There is no uncertainty among the players of what it is that we are striving for and want to achieve. For me, the best part is that you can be part of this team and, like in a real family, you can live without fear. If you make a mistake, you have the support of the team – management and teammates – to use it as an experience to grow and become better, as a person and player,” concluded Nel.
HSBC Sevens World Series Schedule 2014/15
Australia: Gold Coast Sevens - 11/12 October 2014 (Winners: Fiji)
United Arab Emirates: Dubai Sevens - 5/6 December 2014 (Defending Champions: Fiji)
South Africa: Cell C Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens - 13/14 December 2014 (Defending Champions: South Africa)
New Zealand: Wellington Sevens - 6/7 February 2015 (Defending Champions: New Zealand) USA: Las Vegas Sevens - 13/15 February 2015 (Defending Champions: South Africa)
Hong Kong: Hong Kong Sevens - 27/29 March 2015 (Defending Champions: New Zealand) Japan: Tokyo Sevens - 4/5 April 2015(Defending Champions: Fiji)
Scotland: Glasgow Sevens - 9/10 May 2015 (Defending Champions: New Zealand)
Springbok Sevens – HSBC Sevens World Series history
1999/2000: Fifth – 80 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2000/2001: Fifth – 82 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2001/2002: Second – 136 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2002/2003: Fourth – 82 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2003/2004: Fifth – 74 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2004/2005: Fourth – 76 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2005/2006: Third – 110 points (overall winner: Fiji)
2006/2007: Fourth – 94 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2007/2008: Second – 106 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2008/2009: First – 132 points (second: New Zealand)
2009/2010: Sixth – 80 points (overall winner: Samoa)
2010/2011: Second – 140 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2011/2012: Fifth - 125 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2012/2013: Second - 132 points (overall winner: New Zealand)
2013/2014: Second - 152 points (overall winner: New Zealand)