Springbok great sees a great future for simplified code

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 April, 2006, 12:00am

Legendary South Africa captain Morne du Plessis firmly believes sevens is the format to 'take rugby to the people' and will soon become an Olympic sport.

Du Plessis, one of South Africa's greatest players and leaders, said on the first day of the sevens that the abbreviated form of the game was the best means to promote rugby around the world.

'I love sevens, it is a great game to take rugby to the people,' said Du Plessis, who is in Hong Kong with the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation. 'With 15-a-side you get tall guys, short guys, big guys, fast guys, it tends to get a little complicated. The simplicity of sevens has totally revolutionised the sport.'

Like many commentators, Du Plessis was surprised sevens was cold-shouldered as a prospective Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee last year.

'It will be great as an Olympic sport. Who knows the real reasons why it was rejected for Beijing, but I am confident it will feature in future Summer Games.' Du Plessis, who led the Springboks to series wins over the All Blacks in 1976 and the British Lions in 1980, praised the 'great amateur tradition' of sevens rugby of which Hong Kong has become a part of the folklore, expanding the realm of rugby to nations that have precious little prior experience.

'Just look at all the teams that are playing this year. Madagascar has sent a team. I didn't even realise they played rugby over there. And it's great that they're coming, where else would they get all that exposure?' he said of the country that is often described as the forgotten continent.

Du Plessis, who also managed the triumphant 1995 Springbok World Cup campaign, thought some of the more established rugby nations, including his own team, the Springboks, stood to benefit from the silky skills that are on display this weekend. 'We need it desperately,' he said. 'Our skill level needs to be improved, especially in the backline. At the moment we are at about a six out of 10, but we need to bring that up to nine out of 10 so we can continue to compete against the likes of New Zealand.'

He commended the Fijians and All Blacks for turning the game into a form of art which he admitted his national side, though vastly improved, were yet to fully emulate.

Since resigning from the South African Rugby Union in 2004 he has been busy co-ordinating projects to help underprivileged young people throughout the country in his capacity as chairman of Laureus in South Africa, the largest and most independent arm of the international foundation.

While in Hong Kong he has held coaching sessions for Operation Breakthrough, a Hong Kong charity partly funded by the Laureus Sport For Good Foundation to help disadvantaged children through exposure to sport.

Du Plessis reels off a list of projects he is involved in, using sports like basketball, athletics, volleyball and soccer to help troubled and impoverished youths, drug addicts, orphans, Aids sufferers and victims of child abuse.

'As long as you get to the street kids quick enough then the social workers can get to work on them. Sport is one of the best ways to get through to the children. If we offer food or shelter they don't necessary come, but they will come to watch a soccer match.'