In his third column for the International Rugby Board, South Africa’s IRB Sevens World Series-winning coach Paul Treu looks ahead to his team’s first pre-season outing and the big Olympic decision in October.
For the first time in the history of Sevens in South Africa we’ve just had an off season, now we’re going to start a pre-season and then we’re going to go into the season in Dubai, and that means that we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
None of my core contracted players, the guys with me until the end of next year, have played any 15s at all since the season finished in June. Some of the young guys – like Lionel Mapoe, Phillip Snyman, Robert Ebersohn, Gio Aplon – have gone back to 15s and are playing Currie Cup at the moment, but they’ll be back training for Sevens.
On and off the pitch it’s all starting to come together. When we first started out with the Sevens squad in Stellenbosch it was a job just getting tables and chairs, but this week the air conditioning is being put in in the offices: it’s a sign of how far we’ve come, and I think the players deserve it. We’re all looking forward to the new season.
Living with Pressure
People talk about the ‘pressure’ of being the defending Series champions, the world number one side, and I think it is going to be a bit difficult.
This is something that we’ve wanted for so many years but I can even feel it now that the pressure is starting to build up much earlier than expected. For example this weekend in Namibia.
The players have been off for about five or six weeks since the World Games in Chinese Taipei, so this weekend’s tournament in Namibia is a perfect opportunity for us to get the players back into Sevens. We couldn’t have asked for a better platform.
Playing against teams like Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, Portugal, Tunisia, some of the core teams on the circuit, it’s a good start, but it’s difficult to go out there and treat it as a pre-season training run when there are people expecting you to come and play as the Springbok Sevens team.
They expect a certain standard and you have to play up to those expectations, so we have to go to Namibia with the goal of winning the tournament, which puts us under a bit of pressure because we haven’t done any live contact training up until now.
But that’s something that the players have to get used to, it’s not going to go away. If you want to be the number one team in the world, you have to keep playing up to your own standards.
The waiting game
Both in and outside of the squad, there’s a huge amount of awareness now too about the Olympic decision due next month. A lot of people are talking about Sevens becoming an Olympic sport and, if that happens, like I’ve said in the past it will change the face of Sevens forever, especially among the smaller rugby playing countries.
The decision is going to impact and influence the lives of so many people, including myself. If Sevens becomes an Olympic sport I would certainly like to go and win a gold medal. Sevens coaches are always mindful that they don’t want to be labelled just a ‘Sevens coach’, but it’s definitely something that I’ll think through very carefully. If I can continue coaching Sevens successfully for the next 20 years, I’ll do that.
That is why someone like (New Zealand Sevens coach) Gordon Tietjens has probably stayed in the game for so long, because you become so close, like a family. You become really attached to people, players and managers on the Series, even from different countries; you build relationships and friendships. It’s not something that’s easy to explain to other people who haven’t been there and experienced it.
The way forward
One thing is certain though: Our full-time model has started other countries and coaches thinking, and acting, because people always follow success.
We all followed in the footsteps of Gordon Tietjens and New Zealand for a long time and now it’s inevitable that other teams will start to look at ways of going full time, like we’ve done in Stellenbosch.
The USA have talked about it, Scotland now have three full time Sevens players and I think that’s just the beginning. And it’s going to make it even more competitive because it will put all the teams on the same footing.
In the past, when you’ve arrived at the first tournament in Dubai there have been a lot of new players and teams that haven’t had a chance to prepare well enough, and I think that is going to change. Going forward it’s going to get tougher. You saw what Kenya did, how well Argentina played last year, it’s only going one way.
I also foresee that if Sevens gets into the Olympics, you’ll have your top rugby countries in the world playing 15s, and the rest of the world could play Sevens because that’s essentially the only way that they can compete against the bigger countries in the world. Fifteens will always be there, like test match cricket, but we’ve seen the growth of Sevens just in South Africa.
More people watched the World Series tournament in George than watched the Super 14 final between the Bulls and the Chiefs this year. There’s definitely a shift in emphasis and that will only continue if Sevens becomes an Olympic sport.
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