Germany aiming to come up clutch on home soil

Having suffered promotion heartbreak on five previous occasions, Germany hope it proves sixth time lucky when they compete in the final men's tournament of World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 in Munich this weekend, writes Jack Zorab.

Germany are often regarded as the best nation in the world at football penalty shoot-outs.

Their record emphatically underlines this, scoring 17 out of their 18 penalty shoot-out spot kicks at World Cups, and subsequently winning all four of the shoot-outs they have contested (in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 2006).

Every time their footballers have gone down to the wire in a knock-out encounter, they have come up clutch.

In rugby sevens, however, the same cannot be said. Germany has previously been tormented by their failure to deliver a clutch moment when the stakes have been at their highest.

At the forefront of German rugby’s list of heartbreaks is the World Rugby Sevens Series Qualifier 2018 in Hong Kong.

That year they reached the final against Japan knowing that the winner would gain promotion to the world series for the following season.

Germany were 14-5 up at half-time, then 14-12 ahead as normal time elapsed. Yet Japan scored the winning try in the final play to win 19-14 and book their ticket to the big time.

That disappointment was the second in as many years for Germany who had lost to Spain in the Qualifier final in Hong Kong a year before, going down 12-7.

A year later, they recorded a hat-trick of consecutive near misses by losing to Ireland 19-10 in the semi-finals. The Irish went on to win the final comfortably against Hong Kong China, gaining entry to the world series for the first time – and they haven’t looked back.

In 2020, Germany were once again in the running for qualification, winning the first leg of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series in Chile. But at the second tournament in Uruguay, they only made the quarter-finals and their collective points tally left them third in the standings, with Japan qualifying again.

The cancellation of the 2021 Sevens Challenger, due to the pandemic, at least gave Germany a break from this kind of heartache. But it would resume in Chile in 2022.

In the one-tournament Sevens Challenger that year they lost to Uruguay 19-15 in the semi-finals. Uruguay went on to win the final to secure their place on the world series the following season.

Germany’s ledger therefore reads: five near misses from five campaigns. And this was from a group of players regarded as a golden generation, with the likes of Bastian Himmer, Jon Dawe, Fabian Hempel, Tim Lichtenberg and Sebastian Fromm just some of the names that drove the team to the edge of the series on so many occasions.

Yet that clinical edge under pressure never seemed to be acquired, or at least didn’t reveal itself when they needed it most.

As Germany prepares to host this weekend’s final World Rugby HSBC Sevens Challenger 2024 tournament in Munich, the nation’s men’s sevens team are in a very different place.

A new coaching unit headed by former national team player Clemens von Grumbkow and Spanish sevens legend Pablo Feijoo are bringing through a younger squad, who don’t carry the scar tissue of those painful losses. Even if Von Grumbkow himself still does.

“We had this generation that went through all these qualifiers but we never made it onto the world series,” says Von Grumbkow.

“The last chance for that generation was 2022. We were probably the best team that year, but I think [previous failures] did haunt them quite a bit. In the pressure situations, they kind of froze and didn’t play as well as they could.

“As a coaching staff we probably put it on them a bit too much saying ‘let’s not miss out again’, and they didn’t play as freely as they could have.

“I am probably the only one left from that staff, and we are trying to not think about those days, we are young and trying to play the best rugby we can.”

The others that carry the same baggage as Von Grumbkow include players Jon Dawe, Niklas Koch and Tim Lichtenberg. Everyone else is bringing a clean slate to the team’s mindset.

“We are aware of our potential and our opportunities,” Von Grumbkow added.

“We are not a free-flowing team like France or Fiji. We have a good structure base, good skills, and we work hard. We want our defence to be our identity card, and then be physical in attack.”

The squad’s younger players include two speedsters in Jakub Dipper and Makonnen Amikuedi, who made his debut in the last Challenger tournament in Montevideo – whilst Felix Hufnagel has taken another big step up in his development during this campaign.

Heading into Munich, Germany are once again in the running to make it onto HSBC SVNS 2025. Needing to finish in the top four of the standings come the end of the weekend, they currently lie fourth but are level on points with Hong Kong China in fifth.

Finishing above Hong Kong China should therefore secure them a place in the HSBC SVNS Play-off tournament in Madrid between 31 May – 2 June.

The quarter-finals are the earliest opportunity that Germany and Hong Kong China will have to meet each other in a shoot-out encounter.

Should that happen, the memories of past failures could rear their multiple heads, but this is a Germany team that has a chance to slay those dragons and march on to Madrid.

By Jack Zorab

See the HSBC SVNS champions crowned in Madrid, 31 May-2 June. Tickets from €10 are available to purchase here