The familiar refrain from the Blitzboks that last season’s World Series success had been left in the past‚ continued on Wednesday when captain Phillip Snyman reiterated that the slate had been wiped clean.
The Blitzboks begin the defence of their Sevens title in Dubai on Friday‚ the now traditional first leg of the World Series‚ against Uganda.
On paper SA should comfortably brush their African counterparts aside‚ but for Snyman there is more to it than that. They need to also show improvements and lay down an immediate marker for the rest of the tournament and the season.
"We already left last season behind when we started our new preseason camp‚" Snyman said. "We needed to make that mind shift. The focus now goes to that … match against Uganda. We need to be ready for that match and take it from there.
"Dubai has been a happy hunting ground for us in the past‚ but this is a new season and everyone is starting with fresh minds and bodies. Even our squad‚ as experienced as we are‚ came back together with new energy and new vigour.
"We will see a lot of the teams more settled this season‚ with not as many new faces and coaches as was the case [in 2016] when we started the season here in Dubai. So it is definitely going to be tougher this time around. We need to be at our best from the start."
One player who is back this season is Ruhan Nel‚ after a successful stint with Western Province‚ which ended with a Currie Cup winner’s medal.
He is relishing the chance to play the shorter version of the game again.
"Fifteens certainly helped me improve my contact skills and physicality‚ while I found it easier to identify space and to get my defensive alignment correct‚ thanks to my sevens experience — so the benefit worked both ways‚" Nel said.
"I certainly feel that I had the best of both worlds."
Nel performed very well for the Blitzboks last season‚ playing in all 10 tournaments and becoming a regular starter for the team‚ so it is not surprising that he is looking for another solid contribution.
"It is always an honour to play for the Blitzboks and this new season brings new challenges‚" Nel said. "We also have the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens this season‚ so it is very easy to be motivated."
The South African Women’s team will also compete in Dubai. Although not a core team on the World Series and playing on invite‚ SA will compete in the Commonwealth Games in March and have qualified for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July. With those events as motivation‚ it would be important for them to play well‚ captain Veroeshka Grain said. "We have to set the tone and we have this opportunity here in Dubai to do that‚" Grain said.