The Blitzboks will have to carry the favourites tag going into the Cape Town leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series on Saturday‚ but there are many challengers hoping to upset the hosts.
Current series champions and Olympic gold medallists Fiji were runners-up in the first leg in Dubai last week‚ losing 26-14 to the Blitzboks in the final.
Fiji are still the standard against which sevens teams are measured, but over the course of the past year the Blitzboks are the only team that have had their measure.
Fiji and SA have met six times in past 12 months‚ with the Blitzboks winning four of those encounters. SA might not win as many tournaments as the powerful islanders but when it comes to head-to-heads they know how to upset Fiji.
In last week’s final‚ after racing into a 14-0 lead‚ the Blitzboks didn’t wilt when Fiji fought back to level the scores early in the second half. SA rallied to score two late tries to win – the last coming from wing and current World Player of the Year Seabelo Senatla‚ which was his 11th of the tournament.
New Zealand are always a threat and even though they were poor by their Himalayan heights in Dubai last week‚ finishing sixth and suffering a chastening 40-0 defeat against SA in the quarterfinals‚ they will be better after enjoying another week of preparation.
Australia‚ who are drawn in Pool A alongside the Blitzboks‚ are a handy team that are improving all the time. They came fifth in Dubai‚ beating New Zealand for the extra log point in the fifth/sixth play-off. The Aussies are potential dark horses in Cape Town but have to navigate a tough group‚ which also includes the USA and Russia.
The USA ran the Blitzboks closest in Dubai last week‚ losing their pool match 19-17 (with SA already assured of a cup quarterfinal). Despite missing out on the main silverware the Americans will fancy their chances of escaping from the pool and qualifying for the cup quarterfinals.
SA and the USA have met 41 times with the Blitzboks winning 36 matches and the USA four‚ with one draw. Against Australia the USA have a better record winning six of their clashes 36 previous clashes.
On paper, the Blitzboks should advance comfortably to the Cup quarterfinals with Australia and the USA scrapping it out for the other place. If SA can replicate last week’s form where they were well ahead of the rest of the teams they should move into day two’s knockout phase in good shape.
The Blitzboks are also aiming to win the SA leg of the World Series for a fourth consecutive time after picking the 2013 and 2014 titles in Port Elizabeth before the tournament moved to Cape Town last year.
But Coach Neil Powell‚ who selected an unchanged 12-man squad for this weekend‚ has warned his players against complacency.
"We can’t come into this tournament and think we can just start where we left in Dubai‚" Powell said. "We need to start all over again. That will be the theme this week in our preparation‚ getting mentally prepared for Cape Town again.
"We have a really tough pool with USA‚ Australia and Russia so we are going to need a big mental shift."
The coach also emphasised that defence and breakdown work‚ which were the keys to their success in Dubai‚ needed to be sharp again.
"It’s been really important for the guys to keep making good decisions in the defensive system‚ especially by not overcommitting around the ruck areas‚" Powell said.
"The players are all implementing their specific roles really well‚ and we’ve seen the benefits of them getting off the line quickly and getting into the face of the opposition.
"Hopefully we can do the same at this Cape Town tournament because we know we’re in a very tough pool [with Australia‚ the USA and Russia]‚ and that teams will be looking to counter our defensive system."
- South Africa
- New Zealand