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Philip Snyman was just over a month into his role as coach of the German men’s sevens team when the draw for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 was made in July.
Having qualified for the tournament for the first time through a second-place finish in the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship, Germany were handed a pre-Round of 16 encounter against Chile with the winner of that tie going through to play number one seeds South Africa. For Snyman and his players, that would be a very big deal.
Snyman, 35, played for South Africa Sevens for 11 years and is the only Blitzboks player to have appeared in three Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments – 2009, 2013 and 2018.
In addition, Snyman won an Olympic bronze medal in Rio in 2016, was a three-time HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champion, played in 62 World Series tournaments and 276 matches for the team, scoring 376 points, and captained the side in 28 tournaments.
So having the opportunity to play against the team that still has a big place in his heart was always going to elicit a reaction.
“I was in South Africa at the time (the draw was made), at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS), where the Springbok Sevens are based also,” he revealed.
“For us, it is about the first game against Chile because I have seen too many times in the past where you’re too focused on the next game and you don’t get over the first hurdle.
“But if we do manage to win that game then, yes, it is a great opportunity for the guys to measure themselves against the world’s best. There is no better place to play against the Springbok Sevens than a full stadium in Cape Town, in front of 65,000 people.
“It would probably be the biggest game of those guys’ careers and, for me as a coach also, it’ll be very interesting playing against my old team, a team that I am still very close to and one that is still in my heart.
“It will be a massive honour to play against them in Cape Town.”
Having been beaten to the bronze medal by Chile in the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series earlier this month, Germany have a very good understanding of what to expect at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.
“Any game against a South American team is a tough match,” Snyman said. “They always have that never-say-die attitude and play right until the last second. So it will definitely be a tough match for us but I am confident if we can do everything we can, the result will look after itself.”
Detail on defence
The Chile loss was Germany’s second in a row to South American opposition at the Challenger Series in Santiago, with Uruguay having ended their hopes of qualifying for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2023 as a core team in the semi-finals.
It was a setback for a side on the up, but Snyman has identified the root causes of what went wrong.
“Out of the last five tournaments that was probably our worst performance,” he said, reflecting on the Santiago-based event.
“We had a very tough pool – Uganda were in our pool, Uruguay were in our pool. But we managed to finish top and we beat Uganda again in the quarter-finals but lost the semi-final against Uruguay, who we’d beaten in the pool stages.
“I don’t know if it was stress or pressure that was the cause but our defence let us down in that game and that’s something we've worked hard on over the last few weeks. We missed too many tackles and we didn’t get enough shoulders on bodies.
“At the end of the day, you can control the game with ball in hand but you win through defence and our defence wasn’t up to standard and now we need to lift ourselves up for the World Cup.
“In the first couple of tournaments we worked really hard on it and it was spot on,” Snyman added.
“In the first European leg (Lisbon) we beat Spain in the final, a World Series team, 21-7, and we only conceded four tries throughout the whole tournament.
“If we manage to get those things right in training over the next few weeks, the guys will be on the right path again.”
Out of Africa and into Germany
A win against Chile would result in Snyman going head-to-head with Blitzboks coach Neil Powell, the man who gave him the confidence to go into coaching after a back injury ended his playing days in October 2019.
“I always wanted to become a coach, towards the end of my career Neil Powell chatted to me and said that he thought I had the ability to become a coach one day. And then in my final year of playing after I retired with the back injury, I had six months of my contract left and helped out a little bit with the Springboks academy and the Springboks Women and took the Springboks Under-18s to an international tournament, which we won,” he explained.
Then, in January 2021, Snyman became head coach at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport, which has a well-established partnership with SA Sevens, before gaining his first international experience.
Had things turned out differently, Snyman could have been leading Uganda at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022.
“In March, I helped Uganda to qualify for the World Cup,” he explained.
“Uganda have a fantastic team and a fantastic group of players and I am really happy they will be at the World Cup as well.
“They wanted me to come back but then Germany came across my path and I agreed with Germany that I would join them, full-time, on 1 June. I am very grateful for the opportunity.
“Obviously coaching at academy level is great and the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport is rightly regarded as one of the best sevens academies in the world. But your next step as a coach is international rugby, and to get a breakthrough so early is a dream come true,” he added.
“We won the first European leg in Lisbon, and in the second one in Krakow we came third, to finish in second place overall.
“Germany have a great group of players and some great structures in place and I really think they are a team for the future in sevens.”
The perfect hosts
Whatever the outcome in Cape Town (9-11 September), Snyman believes the tournament itself will be a big hit.
“Cape Town always delivers, I think it will be a great host for the World Cup. I think I speak on behalf of most of the players in saying it is one of the favourite stadiums and cities to visit. It is the first time in two years that sevens is back in Cape Town and I think the vibe will be absolutely wonderful.”