Sevens’ Success Is XVs Too

BRUCE Hobson’s tenure as Zimbabwe rugby boss has seen a marked rise in international matches and renewed interest in the national XVs game.

 

His critics were however pointed out bias towards the Sevens version of the game at the expense of XVs. He responds in this analysis.

ZIMBABWE Seven Rugby teams has just returned from a difficult tournament in Tangiers, Morocco where we lost 19-17 in the Plate final to the South Of France Select team.

Prime among the teams taking part were the Emerging Springboks, France, Tunisia, Kenya, Morocco, South of France Select and Zimbabwe.

For us, the absence of a number of key players — who were either not available or were injured — meant that the team was running with five new players, or players who had not been in the team for a while.

This, coupled with unusual local conditions and hard abrasive rugby, gave the team a real test, and we went down to eventual tournament winners, Tunisia, and the Emerging Boks. We beat Morocco and Senegal.

The Tangiers Sevens tournament is part of the Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) circuit, which includes the Castle Sevens and the Tusker Sevens tournaments in Zambia and Kenya, respectively.

Zimbabwe is invited to those tournaments and also the IRB World Sevens Series events in Dubai, George and Hong Kong. This year sees the sevens Rugby World Cup qualifiers for African countries, which will be in Tunisia in October.

That the Tangiers Sevens was difficult, and came as it did in the build up to the Sevens RWC qualifiers, is exactly the part of the preparation needed by the team to assist with building mental and physical toughness.

The nature of the shorter-version game does not allow for a weak point anywhere, particularly with an individual’s mental toughness. Key to this game is the absolute discipline required in the structure of the defence and attack.

Due to the intense nature of this game with time passing by in a blur, there is no space for error or weakness. Endless drilling of skills together with conditioning means that to perform sevens at a good level means a huge amount of work and effort.

Most international teams use sevens as a developmental platform for new, young and up and coming players as a pool for their national XVs squads. Zimbabwe is no different in this regards but over and above this, most of the players from the Sevens team also play in the national XVs team.

A number of the current sevens and XVs players have been attracted to playing for Zimbabwe because of the international exposure experienced by the sevens team.

This is hugely important for Zimbabwe rugby in general as we at sevens recognise that our most important team is our national XVs team, and we are conscious of the need to collectively develop that entity. After all this is the yardstick by which Zimbabwe rugby is judged.

Doubling as the union president as I do, which mainly runs XVs, I have an important legacy to protect, and will obviously do everything in my power to do that.

In this respect, the individual development in sevens plays an important role. The individual skills are required as the overall strength of the team can be judged by an individual’s weakness.

Absolute confidence in your fellow player is required, otherwise gaps appear in your defence, and this can lead to the opposition being able to score.

Most teams are running fit, but there is a requirement to build core strength and physical strength in order to deal with the enormous energy levels required to play this game successfully.

Individual skills and an understanding of the dynamics of the game are paramount as the slightest mistake is usually pounced upon by the opposition.

Zimbabwe sevens has run for a number of years the Husqvarna Sevens Academy, which is the training platform used to develop these skills.

In addition, a conditioning programme is now in place for both Sevens and XVs national players, with gyms being available to the players. Grant Mitchell is our conditioning coach and is working with the individuals in these gyms to increase their physicality.

The positive profile of Sevens has been positive for rugby in general from a sponsorship point of view. This is critical to subsidise the development of the sevens in Zimbabwe and the recent discussions with a new sponsor will also affect the national XVs team in a big way.

A huge amount of work has to go into attracting a sponsor in the first place and Sevens has done just that to the benefit of XVs as well. This process takes time and is usually results-driven.

With Zimbabwe Sevens still to complete a busy schedule for the year and hopefully being successful in qualifying for the sevens RWC, we look forward to the overall game going forward in Zimbabwe and growing from strength to strength.

Bruce Hobson:He is the president of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union and manager of the Zimbabwe sevens team.