Ruhan Nel. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Ruhan Nel. Picture: GALLO IMAGES

The top two teams in the HSBC World Sevens Series are seldom paired in the same pool — but that is the situation in Vancouver this weekend.

Series leaders SA are drawn in pool D‚ which could stand for the "pool of death".

SA are paired with New Zealand in the sixth leg of the championship. The Kiwis are second on the overall standings‚ 10 points behind the Blitzboks.

With the unpredictable but occasionally superb Scotland thrown into the mix‚ escape from the group stages is far from a formality.

Russia are the fourth team‚ and the margin of victory over the minnows could play a crucial role in the overall points difference in the series.

If either New Zealand or SA fail to qualify for the quarterfinals‚ it could have huge ramifications for the series race.

As always, the Blitzboks’s only focus is on emerging from the pool in first or second place to ensure quarterfinal qualification before attention shifts to overall glory in Vancouver.

With an injury-depleted squad‚ players such as defensive kingpin Ruhan Nel are going play a big role this weekend.

After finishing fourth in Las Vegas last weekend – their worst return of the season – the Blitzboks have to show mental strength to overcome a slew of injuries and player losses to Super Rugby.

"I am more than happy to be seen as one of the pillars on defence‚" said Nel.

"Playing fifteens last year made me more aware of the physical dominance on defence and I am happy to apply that in sevens. In fact‚ I could use some sevens skills in fifteens as well‚ like spatial awareness.

"I was happy with my contribution in Vegas‚ considering that I was not part of the original squad and was aiming towards the Vancouver tournament."

The influential midfielder was called into action in Las Vegas as the official replacement when Werner Kok suffered a concussion in the first match of the tournament.

The original plan was for him to make his return in Vancouver‚ but Nel was more than happy to run onto the Las Vegas pitch.

"When I saw Werner taking the knock‚ I thought I might be in business sooner than planned. My knee came through fine though and I am ready for this weekend‚" said Nel‚ who has played 25 tournaments so far.

"We slipped up in Las Vegas and we know what we did wrong‚ so we are keen to get back on the field and rectify those mistakes."

The 2017 rugby season was an exceptional one for Nel‚ who was part of three different title-winning squads: the World Rugby Sevens Series with the Blitzboks, and the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup with Western Province.