Blitzboks back to square one for Dubai kick-off
A year has passed since the best season in SA’s Sevens history began in Dubai and in the same city 12 months on the Blitzboks have hit the "reset" button as they begin their title defence.
Neil Powell’s team started their historic run to the 2016-17 HSBC World Sevens Series title with victory in Dubai in 2016‚ which was the first of five tournament wins on the 10-leg circuit. But there is no more basking in the glory of what happened in the past.
All eyes are on the future‚ which includes defending the Commonwealth Games title at the Gold Coast and trying to win a first-ever Sevens World Cup in San Francisco next July.
In their precise preparations in Stellenbosch in the build-up to the season‚ the Blitzboks focused on their perceived weaknesses from last season‚ and honed their strengths.
The first match in Dubai‚ starting on Friday‚ will be a good gauge of how much other teams have closed the gap.
"Everybody wants to get better," said Powell. "Yes‚ we are champions‚ but that doesn’t mean anything when the new series starts.
"We are back to the start and needed to get all our systems back in place and get everyone fit," he said.
Tim Agaba‚ Kwagga Smith‚ Chris Dry‚ Seabelo Senatla and Rosko Specman all played 15s after the World Series ended last May and as a result had to work doubly hard to find their sevens groove at the training camps.
"It really takes a while to get back into the levels of fitness required in sevens‚" Powell said. "There aren’t the breaks in play you have in 15s‚ the intensity of a match is so much higher.
"It requires a lot from your body. We can’t waste one session in preseason‚ every weights session‚ cardio and all our diet must be absolutely correct," the coach said.
As usual Fiji‚ England and New Zealand will be tough threats, but other teams such as Canada‚ Scotland and the US have made great strides in the sevens tournament.
This year’s series should be the tightest yet‚ which is why the Blitzboks have been working hard to find marginal gains.
"We had 78% win success on lineouts‚" Powell said.
"There is still 22% improvement to be made there. Our scrum win rate is 98% like most teams‚ but there’s still a 2% increase to be made. There is always something to be looked at," he said.
"We analyse every detail: time spent defending‚ time with ball in hand‚ different defensive systems. If you play against an offloading team like Fiji‚ you have to adapt your systems.
"All players knowing how to change the system for a particular opponent is key for us.
"England‚ a great team on the series‚ were a nemesis for us.
"In six matches against them we had one win‚ one draw and four losses.
"That’s not good enough and we need to work through the detail on why that happened.
"England were one of those teams that managed to keep a lot of consistency in their squad and management after the Olympics‚" said Powell.
"We were the same so it always made for good matches throughout the series.
"But it’s an area we have to look at and understand why those games turned out like they did," he said.
"That’s all part of our improvement as a team and coaching staff."
The Blitzboks face Uganda‚ Kenya and Canada on day one of the Dubai Sevens on Friday.