Sevens on the rise, says Hunt

George Byron

DYNAMIC Blitzbok centre Steven Hunt says one of the secrets to success in the fast-paced and increasingly popular sevens format of rugby is to see space on the field and to use it correctly.

The former Grey High flyer, who had to pull out of the Nelson Mandela Bay Sevens at the last minute because of an ankle injury, says the days of individualistic play has passed in sevens.

Hunt has also predicted that sevens will get even more competitive than it already is as more countries eye a gold medal when the sport is played at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“It is every sportsmen’s dream to go to the Olympics. It is definitely a goal of mine but so much can happen in four years.”

Hunt says tactics are vital in sevens and the Blitzbokke are fortunate to have several outstanding players in their squad for the Nelson Mandela Bay leg of the world series.

“The time of being a brilliant individual sevens player is over. Now you have to use your teammates and run into space,” Hunt said.

“In sevens you have to put in the hard work and never give up – and you must have the ability to see space. This is not an individual game any more.”

Hunt played in the Grey High first XV in 2006, alongside Tim Whitehead (Sharks) and JJ Engelbrecht who have gone to make names for themselves in the 15-man form of the game.

“I was playing for the Western Province Under-21 team when coach Paul Treu was scouting for players with ability to play sevens,” Hunt said.

“At the end of the season I was invited to a camp to see how I would do and whether I would fit in. It all started there and I made my debut for the Blitzbokke in Wellington, New Zealand, in 2010.

Hunt has now become an established member of the SA Sevens team and would have been one of the stars of the Port Elizabeth leg of the World Series this weekend had he not been forced out by injury.

Hunt paid tribute to coach Treu who has played a major role in turning the Blitzbokke into one of the most feared teams on the world sevens series circuit.

“In the sevens business there is nobody better than coach Paul. He is incredible and knows the game like the back of his hand.

“He is hard on his players, but that is his way of doing things. It has worked and he has been a very successful coach. We can all take our hats off to him.”

During his time with the national team, Hunt has struck up a good relationship with star Blitzbokke player Cecil Afrika, who also hails from Port Elizabeth.

“Other than him being a great person, it has been wonderful to play outside him at centre while he is at flyhalf. I have got so much respect for the way that he plays the game.

“One day I will be able to look back on the fact that I have a good relationship with Cecil and that we play well together. Cecil will be a sevens hero one day.”

Hunt says he has been following the progress of the EP Kings and is excited about the imminent debut of the Southern Kings in Super Rugby.

“It is awesome for the area that the Kings are playing Super Rugby. In the past, EP rugby was brilliant in the Currie Cup competition when they played against teams like Western Province and Transvaal in days gone by.

“Now is the time to get top rugby back to this part of the country and let it grow. The Kings have signed some new players and I think they can punch their weight in Super Rugby.

“We trained at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium this week and saw the great facilities for Super Rugby.”

Hunt says travelling around the world and experiencing different cultures is one of the big bonuses of playing for the national side.

“Obviously it is not a holiday for us but it is fantastic to see so many different places. We have just come from Dubai and that is a very different sort of place.

“I always enjoy going to England and Twickenham is a very prestigious venue. I have been fortunate enough to play there twice and had good tournaments on both occasions so I enjoy the stadium. Visiting different countries you see lots of different cultures and people and that is cool.”

Hunt says he really enjoys playing sevens because it is a quick, fast-thinking game.

“My contract comes to end this season so we will have to wait and see what happens from there. My goal is to play sevens up until 2016 when it will be played at the Olympics in Rio.”

Asked whether he would consider playing 15-man rugby full-time, Hunt said: “I am not sure at this stage. I enjoy the 15-man game and have played four Currie Cup matches for Western Province.

“If I get a chance to play 15-man rugby again I will definitely take it. I will see how it goes, though I would not like to leave sevens at this stage.”

Hunt says the Blitzbokke’s toughest opponents on the world circuit are usually New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and England.

“Things, however, can change from season to season and this year we did not expect Portugal to be so good, Now all the teams are coming through and the United State are coming together and getting good players.

“Now in sevens it is the team is on the day. When I started, there were always two easy pool games on the first day and things started getting difficult on the second day,

“Now the game is growing immensely and countries are putting more money into sevens and paying the players more as they eye the Olympic Games.

“In four years it will be a different ball game, with not just teams like Fiji and New Zealand being major threats. There will be all sorts of teams in contention.”

When he is not playing rugby, Hunt is busy studying for a BComm in marketing, which he hopes will help him stay involved in sport when his playing days come to an end.

“The sporting industry is what I am interested in and I would love to go into sports marketing.”

This is a version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, December 8, 2012.

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