Stedman Gans in action for the Bulls during the 2020 Super Rugby Unlocked event.
Gordon Arons/Gallo Images
- Bulls star Stedman Gans isn’t surprised by several sevens players making almost seamless transitions into the 15-man game this season.
- The Blitzboks skipper believes fifteens still places a premium on speed and skill because of its ability to crack open tight matches.
- Gans’ experience of many do-or-die situations on the World Sevens Series circuit will also come in handy for the Bulls’ Currie Cup semi against the Lions.
Discourse over this season’s domestic programme – Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup – might at the moment be dominated by the overall standard of SA’s rugby product, but there is another prominent theme: the rise of the sevens stars.
2020/21 has marked a potential watershed for the local game’s ability to integrate stars from the seven-man format into fifteens.
Kwagga Smith had been somewhat of a poster boy in reaching Rassie Erasmus’ Springbok World Cup squad in 2019 while Rosko Specman, Seabelo Senatla and Ruhan Nel all have had their moments over the past few years.
But the dramatic impact made by the Bulls duo of Stedman Gans and Kurt-Lee Arendse, along with promising stints from Werner Kok and Angelo Davids suggests that transitions are becoming more seamless.
It’s not something that surprises Gans, who’s been a lynchpin in midfield for Jake White’s Bulls.
“I’m definitely happy for the guys,” he said as the Bulls prepare for their Currie Cup semi-final against the Lions next weekend.
“The way the 15-man game is going, it’s suiting the sevens guys more and more. It definitely has an influence on why they’re coming through.”
That’s an intriguing thought actually, given that some local coaches have argued that fifteens has become more attritional due to factors such ranging from solid defensive structures and inconsistent law interpretations.
“More speed and skill is coming into the game,” said Gans.
“In the past, I believe power played a bigger role, it still does, but refinement is now one of the biggest influences on the game. Given how tight many games are nowadays, it’s the sevens players that can come in and make a difference at a crucial moment during proceedings.”
With the Currie Cup reaching its climax, teams boasting sevens exponents have another possibly underappreciated advantage in team members who are used to delivering results when the stakes are at their highest.
Neil Powell, the Blitzboks head coach, has noted before that the structure of World Sevens Series almost weekly exposes players to proverbial do-or-die situations, particularly when a team loses a match in their Pool and then have to play catch-up in the quest for Cup glory.
“There are things you learn when you’ve been in those pressurised situations before. I’ve been privileged to experience it quite a few times in my career,” he said.
“I can definitely draw on it in the playoffs. It’s about focusing on the process and not the outcome. It’s small mental triggers that make all the difference.
“Knockout games need not be complicated.”