We’ve gotten used to seeing New Zealand leading the annual Sevens World Series as they’ve finished winning 12 of 15 tournaments, but we might change soon.
Despite being the defending champions again, it has become apparent that they are not quite the force they once were and that they are no longer the leaders in terms of physique, pace, performance. skill or intelligence of play. A marvelous record of which he boasts, coach Gordon Tietjens is no longer ahead on the field and some of his strategies are, if not obsolete, lacking in creativity or even intelligence.
Instead of looking for space or trying to put players in holes, the general goal seems to be to make contact and restart the ball repeatedly until the defense loses form. Against the South Africans in particular, that no longer works, as the Blitzbokke are the current masters of the blackout, with their exceptional engagement and intensity chasing and turning not only New Zealanders but all teams. It’s probably true that they’re allowed to get away with murder during blackouts, but until the refs respond, they’ll continue to dominate.
Although they are neither the biggest nor the strongest, the SAs are the most physical and they have a greater depth in place than any side. On offense, the Fijians always lead the way with skill, pace and power, but that’s not matched by defense, discipline, fitness or commitment. Under a new manager, Australia is finally making progress and could well become a threat, especially if they can find more rhythm. Samoa is in bad luck and doesn’t have a circuit breaker. They lack speed and don’t have a coherent game plan. England is the best of the rest, but after that the standard quickly drops.
On paper, the South Africans are expected to win this year’s series, but heading into 2016 and the Olympics that will all change as some, if not all teams will look to some of their 15 rugby stars. Imagine an NZ Sevens ‘pack’ of Dane Coles, Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick backed by Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Sonny-Bill Williams and Julian Savea with Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Sam Cane on the bench. It’s an exciting prospect, albeit a little unfair to those who train and play in the seven-a-side game all season.