Tough sevens pool for the Blitzboks in Wellingtom

27 January 2017 - 14:20 By Craig Ray

The Blitzboks could be forgiven for cursing such a tough pool at the Wellington Sevens in New Zealand this weekend‚ but it only serves to highlight how competitive the shorter version of the game has become.

South Africa‚ current leaders of the HSBC World Sevens Series after winning in Dubai and finishing runners-up in Cape Town‚ are drawn alongside Fiji‚ Australia and Japan in Pool B this weekend.

Fiji are the reigning series champions and gold medallists from last year’s Rio Olympics.

Japan made the semi-finals in Rio‚ losing the bronze medal match to SA while Australia are on the rise in Sevens‚ and Wellington is like a second home tournament for them.

It’s going to be a tough first day for the Blitzboks. But on the flip side‚ the Blitzboks’s consistency and excellence this season means teams won’t relish facing them either.

SA have only lost one match out of 12 in 2017‚ and that was the Cape Town final when they went down 19-17 to England.

  • Can New Zealand recapture their form in Wellington?The big question heading into the Wellington sevens is whether New Zealand can recapture their form. The 12-time World Sevens Series champions were way off their own lofty standards in the first two rounds of the 2016/17 HSBC World Sevens Series with a best finish of third in Cape Town and only sixth in Dubai. 

But the only time they have won in Wellington was in 2002‚ when current coach Neil Powell played for the team.

SA’s consistency on defence and in attack is the reason why the Blitzboks sit on top of the overall standings after two rounds with 41 log points.

“Japan showed at the Olympics that they can deliver on the big day when they beat New Zealand‚ so we dare not underestimate them‚” Powell said.

“Australia finished fourth and Fiji won the World Series last year‚ so it will not be an easy day out there if we are not on song from the first match. “We need to start well against Japan to get the rhythm we need in order to go all the way.

"There is no use of us talking about a possible final and winning the cup if we trip up against Japan.”

SA also goes into Wellington‚ where they lost the final against New Zealand last year‚ without the vastly experienced duo of Cecil Afrika and Kyle Brown due to injury.

  • Blitzboks on a mission in WellingtonThe Blitzboks arrived in Wellington‚ New Zealand‚ on Sunday evening with a mission to extend their lead at the top of the World Sevens Series standings this weekend.  

Replacing that experience is impossible but hopefully the players stepping in – Siviwe Soyizwapi and debutant Zain Davids – will bring the same skill and mental toughness.

“We don't have Kyle and Cecil Afrika here this time due to injuries‚ and we have lost a lot of experience because of that‚” captain Philip Snyman said.

“But I am pretty excited about the new guys who came in and we are keen to give it another go to try and win the tournament.

"We trained well this week and will be ready‚ come Saturday and the first match against Japan.”

Snyman said that the Blitzboks adapted quickly to the 11-hour time difference between South Africa and New Zealand.

  • The Blitzboks were the nearly-men of Sevens rugby in 2016The Blitzboks showed remarkable consistency during the 2015-16 HSBC World Sevens Series‚ but lacked the killer punch when it mattered. 

“It is hard to change around 11 hours as it is night and day‚ but we had some good sessions‚” said Snyman.

“Our attack looked sharp on Tuesday and the defence session we had today also had a good edge to it‚ so I am pretty pleased with the squad's mindset at the moment.”

Wing Seabelo Senatla needs eight tries to become SA’s leading World Series try-scorer.

He currently sits on 172 tries with Fabian Juries’ record of 179 just in sight. Branco du Preez (922 career points) could also move past Juries (925 points) on the all-time scoring list.

- TMG Digital