Despite dominating the HSBC World Sevens Series last season, Blitzbok coach Neil Powell and the squad have been focusing on several weaknesses as they prepare for the defence of their title in Dubai in a week.

The Blitzboks claimed five of the 10 titles last season, and also made eight finals. They won 82% of their matches — 49 out of 60 with 10 defeats and a draw — and collected 192 log points.

Nearest challengers England lost 14 of their 58 matches with two draws for a 72% winning ratio, while Olympic champions Fiji lost 16 of 58 matches with one draw — a 71% winning ratio.

But within the season of dominance, the Blitzboks had their shortcomings, particularly against England, who beat SA in the Cape Town and Vancouver finals and twice in pool play. They were the rivals that troubled SA all season.

"If you look at losses against England, we gave away possession too easily and they made us pay for it," coach Neil Powell told Business Day. "The key against them is hanging on to the ball and making them defend. What happened last year was they were able to make us defend against them.

"They were also clever in pushing us towards touch with their defensive system, and forcing lineouts where they had success in attacking our set piece and winning possession.

"We are aware it went wrong against them and we are working at methods to ensure we have more possession against an England-type team.

"We are by far the smallest team on the circuit, but defensively one of the most successful. Our players work really hard on positioning and technique to ensure they make those one-on-one hits."

Set pieces have been a concern at times, especially as teams such as England identified attacking the small Blitzbok lineout as a good way to upset the pacesetter.

"Set pieces were solid enough but we did struggle in the lineouts, especially against a team like England," Powell conceded. "We are working on ways on how to secure the ball when we’re up against highly competitive lineout teams.

"Towards the latter part of the season, our defensive system started unravelling a little bit. We didn’t ‘look after’ it as we say, for the final four tournaments.

"So we need to make it watertight again and in the contact area, we still need to improve as well."

Players such as Seabelo Senatla, Chris Dry, Rosko Specman, Werner Kok and Tim Agaba returned to the sevens training base in Stellenbosch last week after long stints of 15s rugby in the Currie Cup and Pro14.

Their experience in the expanded format has had some benefits as well as some drawbacks for the players as they settle into their sevens habitat.

"The guys learnt a few things at 15s and there is definitely something we can take from that," Powell said. "One area is definitely their physicality, which has improved because 15s demands it. If that’s the only thing they bring back, it’s a bonus for us."


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