Blitzboks in tough pool in Vancouver
It’s seldom the case that the top two teams on the HSBC World Sevens Series are paired in the same Pool‚ but that is precisely the situation in Vancouver this weekend.
Series leaders South Africa are drawn in Pool D‚ which could stand for ‘death’. As in ‘Pool of Death’.
SA are paired with only foes New Zealand at 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‚ where the margin of victory over the minnows could play a crucial role in the overall points’ difference.
If either NZ or SA fails to qualify for the Cup quarterfinals‚ it could have massive ramifications for the Series race.
As always the Blitzboks’ only focus is on emerging from the Pool in first or second 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 to have a big role to play this weekend.
After finishing fourth in Las Vegas last weekend – their worst return of the season – the Blitzboks have to show great 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 fifteen as well‚ like spatial awareness for example.
“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 last weekend as the official replacement when Werner Kok was concussed 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.
"There is no reason why we cannot do that and be successful again.”
Last year was an extraordinary season for Nel‚ who was part of three different title-winning squads.
The first was the World Rugby Sevens Series title with the Blitzboks‚ and then both the SuperSport Rugby Challenge and Currie Cup with Western Province.
He is quick to name another three on his “to-do” list: “Well‚ Vancouver for one‚ then the Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast in April) and the Rugby Sevens World Cup (San Francisco in July).”