Johanneburg – The Springbok Sevens will have an unprecedented sixth Sevens World Series Cup final in their sights when the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens kicks off early on Friday morning.
Only two points separate the Blitzboks and New Zealand at the top of the World Series standings, and adding to their motivation, the South Africans will be eager to win their first Hong Kong Sevens title.
This will also halt a run of defeats in two consecutive World Series tournament deciders in Wellington and Tokyo.
Their impressive run of form and level of consistency have resulted in a number of milestones for the team this season.
The Springbok Sevens have so far managed to reach the semi-final of each of the previous six World Series events.
Their five Cup-final appearances have yielded consecutive tournament titles in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas, and the lowest position the team has finished at any tournament this season was fourth, at the Gold Coast in Australia.
Forward veteran Frankie Horne will achieve the remarkable feat of playing in his 58th consecutive World Series tournament, while fellow forward Chris Dry will reach a milestone 35th appearances for his country.
The team welcomes back prolific points machine and attacking playmaker Cecil Afrika, who missed the Tokyo outing because of a hamstring strain.
Apart from the added firepower of the former IRB Sevens Player of the Year, South African coach Neil Powell will be hoping for more of the same from burly back Werner Kok.
After making his debut last season at Twickenham, the former SA Sevens Academy and Western Province Under-19 star has delivered some sterling performances for the Blitzboks.
His super-sub performances for the team have not gone unnoticed, and was illustrated by the inclusion of his name in both the Wellington and Tokyo Dream Teams.
Powell stressed that the Blitzboks will not be distracted by the glittering attractions or the temptation to change their approach in order to win the sought-after Hong Kong title.
South Africa plays one match on Friday, against France, with the remaining pool fixtures against Spain and Australia on Saturday.
The quarterfinals, semi-finals and various final matches are scheduled for Sunday.
Powell said he would be looking for the same focus and intensity as last week in Tokyo, but cautioned his team to start the tournament on a better note.
“It is vital for us to have a much better start because we will be competing against good teams in our pool for a qualifying spot in the quarterfinals,” Powell said.
“We cannot wait again until the knockout stages to kick into gear because Australia, France and Spain are all strong sides and we will be in trouble if we don't get it right from the start against either of them.”
Brown said the fact that the squad was a settled unit helped him in his captaincy.
“The capability and maturity of the squad makes it much easier for me as the captain,” said Brown, who will be playing in his 40th tournament.
“It is great to play with guys that take care of themselves on the field and who make sure we stick to the game plan.” - Sapa