New season‚ same result as Blitzboks set the standard

03 December 2017 - 11:24 By Craig Ray
Branco du Preez of South Africa scores a try during day 2 of the 2016/17 HSBC Cape Town Sevens rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand at Cape Town Stadium.
Branco du Preez of South Africa scores a try during day 2 of the 2016/17 HSBC Cape Town Sevens rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand at Cape Town Stadium.
Image: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

It’s a new season but unfortunately for the chasing pack in the HSBC World Sevens Series the pattern is the same – the Blitzboks are out in front and everyone has to catch them.

Neil Powell’s team won the season-opening Dubai sevens to claim a maximum 22 log points to set them on their way in the 2017-18 campaign.

In the process they defended their Dubai title on Saturday for their fifth series win in the emirate by beating New Zealand 24-12 in the final. Before that they picked off Samoa (26-10) and Fiji (12-7) in the quarters and semis respectively.

There were obvious signs of rust at the season-opening tournament‚ never more so than against Uganda in their opening pool match on Friday that ended in a narrow 19-10 win.

It was never going to be perfect in the opening weekend. Yet there were moments when the Blitzboks were simply sublime.

Thrashing a good Kenya team 48-5 was perhaps the most complete performance of the weekend while their suffocating defence and relentless pressure in the first half of both the semi and the final showcased the Blitzboks at their best.

Seabelo Senatla underlined his class with seven tries to move into the top five try scorers of all time on 196‚ while Cecil Afrika pulled the strings with his playmaking ability and Kwagga Smith added power and guile.

The Blitzboks’ squad depth was a key feature of their success. When Justin Geduld replaces Afrika‚ or Rosko Specman comes on for Branco du Preez‚ it’s disheartening for opposition.

“There was a lot of expectation going into this tournament and it’s incredible how the players got up and matched it‚” coach Powell said.

“We made a slow start against Uganda but the guys just got better and better as the weekend went on.

“They are an incredible group of players who somehow stay motivated to keep improving.

“It was a new feeling coming into the season and the first tournament as defending series champions‚ because that brings its own expectations and pressures.”

Powell though‚ has tried to play down expectations‚ especially as the series now heads to Cape Town where the Blitzboks will have massive home support.

Over 110 000 fans will attend the two days at the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point and in the two previous years the Blitzboks have been in the final – winning in 2015 against Argentina and losing to England last year.

“Each tournament has its unique circumstances and effort‚ so this is really pleasing for me as a coach and for us as a group‚” Powell said.

“We had a number of players who played fifteens during our off-season and they joined us late‚ but I was very impressed with the way they got back into the sevens groove and culture. It helps to have a solid sevens foundation.

“Credit to the players‚ they picked themselves up mentally. We did make some defensive errors‚ so there is work to be done if we want to be successful in Cape Town. But overall we’re very happy.

“We will enjoy this win and then start focusing on next weekend once we arrive back in South Africa."