The inaugural Sevens Premier League staged in George at the weekend was a rip-roaring success both on and off the field.
Sport is often about much more than what happens between the lines. The potential impact it has on spectators is uncanny in its beauty and simplicity.
The heroics on the pitch not only captivate and entertain, it can, has and will continue to inspire individuals and unite nations.
Rugby, ironically, epitomises the unifying power of sport in South Africa. The Springboks and the game as a whole were despised and considered by many as a ‘white’ sport during the country’s Apartheid regime.
However, come 1995, three years after South Africa’s re-admission and a year removed from the country’s first democratic election, Francois Pienaar’s World Cup-winning Springboks and the way in which then-president Nelson Mandela embraced the team and the sport united South Africa to a degree previously deemed impossible.
Whilst on a much smaller scale, the weekend’s Sevens Premier League succeeded in transcending boundaries as soccer giants Kaizer Chiefs took the bold step to cross over to rugby. The inspired decision was a masterstroke, which uniquely amalgamated two sporting worlds into one.
The brand received the backing of Springboks past and present in coach Gcobani Bobo, captain Breyton Paulse and technical advisor Bismarck du Plessis among others, as well as the support of the South African rugby fraternity at large.
The Kaizer Chiefs collective, complete with Proteas cricket legend Makhaya Ntini as team manager, were the most popular team of the tournament and enjoyed a successful introduction to the seven-man oval ball game.
They advanced to the Cup quarterfinals, where they succumbed to an extra-time defeat to the All Stars in the Cup quarterfinals and produced the highlight of the competition when they ‘unleashed’ Ntini as an impromptu substitute.
The sight of the former fast bowler nearly scoring a try and making two tackles during the third/fourth place play-off match in the Bowl competition was certainly one to savour.
Overall, the standard of Sevens played was top-class and the competition proved a welcome addition to the South African rugby calendar.
The introduction of commercial outfits Kaizer Chiefs, All Stars, Mighty Mohicans, Vikings, Plate winners Living Ball and inaugural champions Samurai added extra spice to the two-day spectacle and the presence of provincial teams and stars like England ace Ben Gollings, Sarel Pretorius, Willie le Roux, Johann Sadie, Derick Minnie and Subura Sithole underscored its credibility as a high calibre, professionally organised tournament.
Willem Strauss and company has successfully identified a previously untapped Sevens market, took the game back to George and delivered a product that has the potential to boost nation-building and strengthen player depth on an annual basis, with the Blitzbokke bound to benefit from the emergence of promising talents such as Samurai hero Justin Geduld.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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