Not a lot had changed when the IRB Sevens charabanc stopped in Dubai ahead of the traditional season curtain-raiser, back in November. Out in the desert, the final dabs of paint were being applied to the region's new rugby headquarters, but the coaches of the top sides in the sport's abridged version were still searching for answers to an age-old conundrum. How to stop New Zealand? Their fearsome coach, Gordon Tietjens, had kept the majority of the side that had swept all before them again in their record-breaking previous campaign. Their aura of invincibility remained impenetrable.
As his young players were welcomed back to a rugby-themed cafe, South Africa's coach, Paul Treu, sat in a quiet corner of the Al Manzil hotel, and mused on his chances of reining in his side's all-conquering rivals. "I am obsessed, you can definitely call it that," said the coach, whose affable demeanor was by now giving way to flinty determination. "I am not going to stop until we win." Whether he will stop now they have toppled the Blacks and won the series for the very first time, at this weekend's final leg in Edinburgh, is highly unlikely.
Before the Scotland series he said: "It would be very difficult for me to leave if we haven't won the series. We have a burning desire within our team, and we want to keep chasing it. For us it is a case or where do we see ourselves in the next 10 years? When we look back, how many times did we win the series? Once? Five times? Eight times? We want to establish ourselves as one of the world leaders at sevens, and I think that is achievable. The players need to start believing they can do it.
"We do have the potential to become the first team other than New Zealand or a Pacific nation to win the series. We are working towards it and I think we may achieve it sooner rather than later." His forecast finally came good when the Boks sealed a place in yesterday's quarter-finals at Murrayfield with a pool stage win over France. Just like their colleagues in the 15-aside game, South Africa's sevens players can now refer to themselves as "world champions".
"It's an unbelievable feeling for me, I can can only imagine how the players are feeling," said Treu, who has been involved with South Africa Sevens for 10 years. "I don't think the guys even realise what they've achieved as a team. Maybe when they're older and look back on their careers, this is definitely going to be one of the highlights. "This is something that didn't start this season but four years ago with a vision that we wanted to become one of the best Sevens teams in the world and leave a legacy behind, and that's exactly what the guys have done."
Treu still has a way to go before he matches Tietjens' eight World Series titles haul. The New Zealander is now focused on adding next year's Commonwealth Games title to his collection. Yet he did not begrudge Treu his moment of triumph. "South Africa deserve it, they have probably been the most consistently performing team this season and they've had a regular squad throughout the series," said Tietjens.
"They have some very good Sevens players, who are very quick and that's a key ingredient of their team. They attack the rucks with a lot of aggression and look for turn-overs to utilise that pace." firstname.lastname@example.org