Scotty Stevenson: Composure brings its own reward

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It is the composure level that has separated the All Blacks Sevens side from the rest of the field over the past fortnight. Photo / Getty Images
It is the composure level that has separated the All Blacks Sevens side from the rest of the field over the past fortnight. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks Sevens returned from Sydney after claiming their second straight world series tournament title.

Just as in Wellington against South Africa the weekend before, the New Zealanders were forced to come from behind to clinch the Sydney final.

Both wins were extraordinary, and revealed something about New Zealand rugby: that this nation's greatest rugby quality is not one that can be measured solely by speed tests and muscle mass.

In the fast-paced world of sevens rugby, small decisions have big consequences. The nature of the sport is such that one refereeing decision, dropped ball, missed tackle, or inaccurate pass can have ramifications that are completely disproportionate to the act.

It's the one thing that makes the sport so intensely competitive, and it's the one thing that the New Zealand team seem to understand better than almost every other team.

Every one who plays the game understands the knife edge upon which they walk - split second decisions must be constantly calculated and made by tiring brains that are struggling to deal with the effects of repeat fatigue.

It is a risk and reward sport in which the combatants play for high stakes. Yes, you need speed and yes, you need strength. However, the number one quality required is composure.

It is the composure level that has separated the All Blacks Sevens side from the rest of the field over the past fortnight, and that's what continues to define New Zealand rugby's competitive advantage.

Think back to the All Blacks' astonishing win against Ireland in 2013. Behind on the board for the entire match New Zealand staged a comeback for the ages, culminating in a try that denied Ireland their first ever win. It was a heartbreaking moment for the Irish, but the perfect illustration of a team that displayed composure.

In Sydney over the weekend, New Zealand only once hit the front in the final, with the match-winning try scored deep in referee's time. In Wellington they reeled in a 14-point South African lead to prevail. In Sydney, they showed remarkable awareness in the final minute of regulation time to hold up newcomer Henry Speight and force a turnover that led, ultimately, to victory.

Australian fans were shaking their collective head at the late Speight play.

The word "inexplicable" was used more than once. It wasn't inexplicable - it was merely inexperienced. Speight lacked composure at the death, and the New Zealand team were able to exact a heavy toll.

It wasn't just about the final, either. For the second-straight week, a rampant Fiji came unstuck at the semifinal stage.

Last week in Wellington, the series' greatest entertainers and co-leaders attempted to take down the South Africans by engaging them at the breakdown and this week they seemed more interested in starting a 14 minute street fight with Sonny Bill Williams.

The Kiwis could not believe their luck, and prevailed against a side that kilo for kilo boasts the greatest athletic specimens and sevens vision in the world.

A lack of composure, that's the only - and I mean only - reason for Fiji's premature exit in Wellington and South Africa. And an abundance of it is the only way to explain New Zealand's back-to-back victories.

Sure, the Ioane brothers were sensational, as was Augustine Pulu. And, yes, there were typically gritty displays from the likes of Tim Mikkelson, Kurt Baker and Ardie Savea, too.

But that ability is nothing without the means to control it, the confidence to unleash it, and the mental fortitude to repeat it, all the way past the final minute.

The All Blacks Sevens side does not have the game's fastest players, nor does it have the biggest. What it has is composure. And that is measured in titles.

- NZ Herald

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