After travelling for 34 hours‚ a depleted Blitzboks arrived bleary-eyed in Las Vegas with slightly lowered expectations for the fifth leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series at the weekend.
The team flew from SA to London‚ where they had a nine-hour layover before an 11-hour flight to Vegas. They also go into the North American leg of the series without first choice six players due to injury and Super Rugby commitments.
Record try-scorer Seabelo Senatla with forwards Kwagga Smith‚ Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Tim Agaba are back at their Super Rugby franchises, while Justin Geduld and Rosko Specman are injured. Ryan Oosthuizen‚ Selvyn Davids and Muller du Plessis will play in their first Las Vegas series.
Considering the travel and player loss factors, coach Neil Powell is realistic about the challenge the team faces in the next 11 days.
"I guess‚ under the circumstances, an acceptable goal for the next two weeks would be reaching the finals of both tournaments [in Las Vegas and Vancouver]‚" Powell said.
"It would be a bonus to win one of the two. We are depleted but we have experience in most positions and we can still select an experienced starting team.
"Kyle Brown‚ Cecil Afrika‚ Philip Snyman‚ Werner Kok‚ Branco du Preez‚ Siviwe Soyizwapi and Dylan Sage all have a lot of experience. There are some inexperienced players on the bench but they have been in the system for a year or so‚ so we are still confident."
The Blitzboks have a tough draw in Pool B where they play Wales‚ Canada and England, all teams that will expect to make the quarterfinals.
"We are drawn in a difficult pool in Vegas‚ and our biggest challenge is to top it on day one.
"It’s a very physical group so we will have to be at our best to get through‚" Powell said.
The Blitzboks head the overall standings with 77 points after winning in Dubai and making the finals in Sydney and Wellington. They are eight points clear of New Zealand, but despite this Powell concedes that they could have done a little better to this point.
"We had an opportunity to win in Hamilton and had we won I would agree that we did as well as we could’ve in the first four tournaments of the season. We had our chances in the final against Fiji and didn’t take them‚ so besides that I’m happy with our effort so far.
"Now our challenge is to see if we can be successful without so many players. This is when we rely on our academy system and the players it’s bringing through to test if we’re on the right track," Powell said.
"Hopefully, the system will look after us and the new players will slot into our patterns seamlessly."