Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Having just returned from commentating at the Las Vegas sevens which was the 4th tournament of 9 in the HSBC Sevens World Series; it struck me that in the two outstanding team performances of the weekend, South Arica (who won the tournament) and Canada, (who finished 3rd ) both had a unique weapon in their armoury.
That x-factor was DESIRE. DESIRE to perform. DESIRE to deliver. DESIRE to WIN. The South African seven is a brilliantly prepared team under new coach and former player Neil Powell. Their physical fitness and team structure is matched with a supreme skill set and team work ethic second to none. When interviewed at the end of the tournament, South African Captain, Kyle Brown suggested that his team had a lot of self-confidence that had helped create a winning environment; ‘Once we get to a final we trust in ourselves and our ability’, he stated.
The other team that have looked at their performance culture is Canada and in analysing their best ever finish in a tournament, Gareth Rees, the former International who I had the pleasure of commentating with said that much of the groundwork of their success had boiled down to preparation. Rees is in charge of performance across all rugby in Canada. It is about putting structures and facilities in place to ensure that Canada have the best resources available to deliver on the pitch in both fifteens and sevens.
Due to lower playing numbers than many other nations, Canadian players play across both formats of the game, sevens and fifteens. Some players are encouraged to take up professional contracts in Europe such as Taylor Paris who had a spell with the Glasgow Warriors and Jeffrey Hassler currently with The Ospreys, whilst others are supported to develop their careers at home. In the coaching set up both Ciaran Crowley the fifteen’s coach and Geriant John, the sevens coach, work hand in hand to develop the players.
But once again behind these structures and support networks; behind the analysis and GPS technology and behind the diet and nutrition was a total DESIRE to win. Canada’s DESIRE has been born from old principles; principles that I believe in and played the game for just as Rees, John and Crowley did in an era where to represent the jersey was a founding belief.
Switching briefly from sevens to fifteens, it was recently noted that Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam will live in the shadow of the 1984 team who celebrate a 30th anniversary this year. That team certainly laid down a foundation for the 1990 team to aspire to and whilst many readers will forget, Scotland played one further Grand Slam matches in 1995, this time losing to England at Twickenham.
The simple fact was that embedded in the Scottish team culture at the time was a real desire to be successful. By the end of the nineties Scotland won the last 5 Nations championship and whilst there have been the odd fantastic win over England, South Africa and Australia there have been many lows which leaves me to ask the question, whether DESIRE is still part of the current culture?
Our sevens team had a tough time in Las Vegas. Drawn in the pool of death it was always going to be a tough group to get out of when faced with Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. However the team appeared to accept their fate before the tournament even began. There were some good individual performances but for me to loose in the manner they did, left the team open to criticism. In a year when the Scotland Sevens team will compete in the Commonwealth games it is vitally important that the team start to produce some consistency in their performance.
Scotland is after all a core team on the HSBC Sevens World Series circuit. They can dine amongst the top 16 teams in the world but whilst the likes of Canada, Argentina and Kenya have shown progress we are currently punching well below our weight. Last season, Scotland as one of three teams at the bottom of the series table, had to play in the pre-qualifying tournament at Twickenham last May to secure their place in this season’s series. And the situation is not much better this season. With one team relegated this year Scotland are fighting it out with Spain, Portugal and USA to avoid relegation. Thankfully Spain is odds on favourite to fall off the circuit.
Spain, Portugal and USA are still trying to qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup and quite a few players in those squads have been pulled back to their International fifteens programme. Last month USA Rugby announced and contracted 25 male and 18 female players to train at the Olympic training facility at Chula Vista, California. They will use the high performance facilities offered by the USA Olympic Committee in preparation for Rio on a full time basis over the next 2 years.
Currently the Scottish clubs are in dialogue with the SRU to create a semi-professional club structure but until we shorten the club XV’s season and focus on improving skills through a separate sevens season (for those who wish to play sevens) and a conditioning programme (for those who wish to play XVs) then I do not think we will produce enough talent capable of playing at professional level. Many people look at Ireland and as they do not play sevens why should Scotland continue to do so but they can develop players through four professional teams.
Finally Scotland’s pool at the Glasgow Commonwealth games features New Zealand, Nigeria and Canada. Scotland has never beaten New Zealand. Assuming that that stays the case and that Scotland beat Nigeria, the success of the team and qualification through to the quarter finals boils down to one tie and that will be against Canada. Who wins that one will boil down to one factor. Who will have more DESIRE?