Blitzboks have a target on their backs
The time for talking is over and the Blitzboks will have to start from scratch as they aim for a positive start to the defence of their HSBC World Sevens Series crown in Dubai on Friday.
They meet Uganda in their opening match of the tournament and follow that with clashes against Kenya and Canada.
The Canadians were one of the most improved teams on the circuit last season‚ winning their first World Series event in Singapore along the way.
Canada in particular‚ pose a danger as they play a physical style of sevens rugby similar to England. The English were a nemesis for the Blitzboks in 2017‚ beating SA in four of their six meetings during the last series.
The Blitzboks will also sport a new kit with a camouflage motif‚ but despite their best efforts to go unseen‚ they are a team with a metaphorical target on their backs.
And the chasing pack‚ spearheaded by England and Fiji‚ aim to knock SA off top spot.
Dubai has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the Blitzboks and their pool is relatively easy in terms of reaching the Cup quarterfinals.
They have won four times in Dubai‚ including last year‚ so there are always happy memories to bank on. But memories and the past are not something the SA team dwell on – they are all about the now and the future.
“A strong start here will give us confidence and momentum going into our home tournament in Cape Town next weekend‚ so we will be looking to build a solid foundation here‚” said coach Neil Powell.
“It will be a bonus for us if we achieve the results‚ but the focus will be on the way we play and execute.”
The tournament also marks the start of a manic seven months that will also include the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup. It’s a season that will test the depth and consistency of all the teams.
“We are aiming to be successful in all three [competitions]‚” Powell said.
“Each of those will have unique challenges‚ so we will have to treat each on its merits. It all starts in Dubai on Friday and we must focus on the first things first.
“It is a long season and we have planned accordingly. We will be looking to rotate players this year in order to keep everyone fresh for each of those challenges.”
Bruising forward Tim Agaba‚ who missed the bulk of last season through injury‚ could play his 50th game for the Blitzboks against Uganda.
“It is great to be back with the guys and hopefully we can do well again‚” Agaba said.
“We will keep our feet on the ground and keep on working hard. We believe that if we stick to our standards‚ everything else will take care of itself.”
For marauding forward Kwagga Smith‚ who enjoyed a stellar season with the Lions in 15s last year‚ Dubai is awash with happy memories.
“Dubai was fairly significant as it was where it all started for the Blitzboks‚ getting the win and starting the season on a winning note‚” Smith said.
“After that I also experienced a first win in Wellington‚ another box ticked off my bucket list with the boys.”