In his weekly News24 column, JJ Harmse believes that the Boks can end their George hoodoo.
With the Emirates Air South African Sevens upon us and the fantastic win our boys achieved in Dubai just behind us, please bear with me for another week of talking Sevens rugby.
It was certainly a special feeling to win our third title in the Arabian Desert last weekend, especially in the way we did it. I am not sure how we managed to do it sometimes, but every time it happens, it seems spectacular.
The Sevens Boks never gave up. In their semi-final match against Fiji, there was 28 seconds to go when Vuyo Zangqa scored his try to bring his side within two points of Fiji and a draw. Mzwandile Stick then took all the time he needed to slot the conversion.
Despite the boorish behaviour by the England fans in the crowd, he did just that. They realised already that their team, who had just knocked over New Zealand, would not last the pace against the South Africans.
Not to be outdone by his fantastic conversion, Stick then slotted an amazing drop goal from 45 metres out within a minute of the extra-time restart.
Only when his team-mates swamped the South African captain did the majority of the huge crowd realise what had happened.
In the final, we always had the measure of England, who had a huge team, courtesy of a couple of Fijians and Nigerians in their side.
They ran us close, as Paul Delport was ridiculously yellow-carded, but the class of the team prevailed.
It was quite pleasing to see Gio Aplon and Ryno Benjamin showing why they have played Super Rugby before. The side needed the senior guys to put up their hands and in Dubai, and they did exactly that.
What a venue they have built in the middle of nowhere. Well, at least for the time being, while the urban creep of Dubai reaches the new venue in the next couple of years!
Although most of the stands are temporary, it still seats over 50 000 spectators. To give you any idea of the size, take into consideration that only two stadiums in New Zealand can take more spectators. And they only had them filled once this year.
It speaks volumes of how popular the Dubai event has become as they filled the stands on both days, with the second day’s attendance breaking the world record for spectators at a Sevens tournament – set the day before!
I for one cannot wait for the World Cup Sevens to be played at the same venue with its six pitches. It certainly shows what can be done if you have the money, but also the know-how.
No pun intended
The George event has for too long being the “little black sheep” in the series. No pun intended with the black sheep analogy, but this tournament has also had some unsavory moments.
South African players has been spat on and verbally abused by scores of local spectators and South African rugby has not once said anything about it.
Yet, when two (white) car dealers from Klerksdorp verbally abused Paul Treu in Hong Kong a couple of seasons ago, an inquiry was launched.
They need to more stringent this time around to make sure the South African players are protected, especially by those hordes of locals that arrive at the ground in their All Blacks kit.
With Peter de Villiers among the dignitaries, it would be interesting to see how strong ‘that’ group will be this year. Or will that not make a difference? Probably not, as Treu is a black coach too and his players were still abused.
So many eyes will be on George this weekend. For the rugby junkies, there will be no other matches on the telly and they will no doubt tune in to watch the Sevens.
It is an ideal opportunity for Treu’s men to achieve a first ever win on home soil, but it will also be an opportunity for other countries to show what they are all about.
What kind of reception will Zimbabwe receive, I wonder. And the USA in their post-Bush era?
Kenya came within a whisker of beating New Zealand in Dubai and they will be huge fan favourites, no doubt.
Fiji and Samoa are perennial crowd favorites and why not? They show flair and skill second to none. Have a look out for Uale Mai, the Samoan stalwart, who scored against the All Blacks XV side earlier this year when they played Samoa in a warm-up game. And Lolo Lui, one of the best young players around. If I were at the event for some scouting, that would be the first signature I would try to get.
Most important of all though will be a South African victory. For too long our boys have achieved all over the world, but never in front of their own.
It can be done, although the draw will mean that we need to play either New Zealand or England as early as the quarter-finals – and both have the tools to beat us if we are off our game on day two. So no mistakes this time. No excuses either.
It is time to take over Outeniqua Park and claim the title. For me, I would love to show the ‘black sheep’ where they could shove their support for New Zealand. It is time!