The Blitzboks have entered uncharted territory for the first time in the 18-year history of the HSBC World Sevens Series — they are not only the team to beat but are the trendsetters of the sport as well.
SA have always been among the top five‚ but reverence has been reserved for New Zealand and Fiji during the 17 previous editions of the series. Even though SA won the 2009 title‚ this was against expectations.
But this year, the Blitzboks have set new standards in defence and have changed the nature of the sport with their work off the ball. It will take teams a little while to catch up.
Just as Fiji were the 1990s kings of attack before New Zealand took the blueprint and improved on it over 15 years‚ SA have shown the way forward in sevens in 2017.
Defence‚ used as an attacking weapon with accurate ruck play and lightning-speed counterattacks‚ has never been so slick. Neil Powell’s team has now set a template for defence‚ as well as fitness and discipline, other teams will have to use if they want to remain in contention.
For the first time, too, the Blitzboks will carry the burden of being the overwhelming favourites so early in the season after winning two of the three tournaments so far and 17 of their 18 matches.
They won round one in Dubai and were runners-up in Cape Town in round two.
The Blitzboks won round three in Wellington last week and have earned 63 log points out of a possible 66.
The pressure of being the pacesetters is probably the only thing that could derail their campaign. With a 12-point lead ‚ winning the title is a reality and only a huge Blitzbok implosion will see them denied.
Captain Philip Snyman has warned his team about being a target and the standard for all others on the circuit as they head into round four in Sydney this weekend.
"We have a saying in the team of always getting back to the middle‚" said Snyman. "Whether you had a good loss or a bad win‚ it does not make a difference – you have to start again with a fresh mind and attitude. You start with the basics and try and do those right."
Snyman pointed to the fact that SA failed to make the final in Sydney last year and that they were keen to improve on that.
"It will not be easy — teams will be gunning for us and we will have a target on our backs‚" said the Blitzbok captain.
"We played well in Wellington‚ but the performances were by no means perfect. We have plenty of areas to improve on and will work hard in training to make the adjustments needed.
"We are always striving for zero tries conceded‚ so we need to lift the intensity even higher."