CAPE TOWN - At the team announcement in Stellenbosch on Friday, Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell said that as World Series champions, they won’t be focusing too much on the “target on their backs”.
Instead, that focus will be shifted to “maintaining the standards” they’ve set until now.
Being the defending champions, as well as the Dubai leg title-holders, the Blitzboks will be the team to beat when they kick off their 2017/18 campaign in the desert city next weekend.
But it’s belief over worry for Powell.
“We know we can win tournaments if we believe in our systems and structures,” said Powell.
“The reality is that we will have a target on our backs this year, being the defending champions, not only in the series, but also in Dubai. We need to keep on believing that we can maintain the standards we have set as a team.”
The Sevens mentor has opted for a very experienced squad for the opening event, with the team boasting the highest average number of caps ever for a Springbok Sevens team in the World Series - with the average number of tournaments per player standing at 37.
The Blitzboks welcome back regulars Kyle Brown (returning from a knee injury), Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla (Super Rugby duty) and Justin Geduld (recovered from a foot injury). Forward Tim Agaba is the only player in the team who did not feature in Dubai last year.
Seeing that Powell has gone with experience, the omission of Stormers loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe is understandable.
But Notshe - who is on loan to from Western Province and has been included in the SA Rugby Academy side that will take part in an invitational tournament next weekend - could get his chance when the Blitzboks travel to Australia and New Zealand early next year.
And Powell had nothing but praise for the exciting back-rower. “He fits in well. A lot of the Fifteens guys that come in stand out for the wrong reasons, but he fitted in well. He’s a very committed guy and he wants to learn. I think the most important thing is to give him game time,” Powell said.
“It will be a good test for him to play in the invitational tournament. If he does well in Dubai, then we can look at giving him a chance in the Sydney and Hamilton tournaments.”
Squad for Dubai: Chris Dry, Philip Snyman, Tim Agaba, Kwagga Smith, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Marco Labuschagne* (* Replacement player)
South Africa’s schedule for Friday, 1 December is (SA time):