CAPE TOWN – If you look at the Springbok Sevens side’s record in Dubai, one wouldn’t say that they have too much to be nervous about. Or maybe they do, precisely because of that record. Pressure’s always at its hottest around the favourites, right?
The defending World Sevens Series champions will go into the opening leg of the 2018-19 competition hunting their third consecutive win in the desert after having celebrated in the UAE six times previously.
But it’s the fear of the unknown that has Blitzboks chief Neil Powell - and presumably many others - a bit cautious ahead of the event at the Sevens Stadium.
“The first tournament of the season is always tough - you don’t know where you are as a team and you don’t know where your opposition is at either. You don’t know whether they’ve changed anything in terms of their attack or defence, or not. So I’m a bit nervous, but I’m looking forward to getting that second wind,” Powell said.
After a long season that included the World Series, the Commonwealth Games and the Sevens World Cup, Powell added that their physical preparation during the pre-season tops last season’s efforts.
“We have to do something to stay ahead. There are definitely things we can do better and we’ve had a look at the areas we felt needed tweaking, but I think 90 percent of our system stays the same,” he said.
“I think we also had a chance to revisit our culture this year and there are a few things we added, but the majority remains the same. It was a long season, but I’m happy with where we are.
Kyle Brown on @Dubai7s - "Dubai is a wonderful setting to play rugby. The weather is great, the crowds are great and we have good support here. This is a special place on the circuit no doubt," said Brown of the venue where he earned 3 gold medals in nine tournaments #LoveRugby pic.twitter.com/2jFAwDeUE6— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) November 27, 2018
I think ahead of last season we waited for a lot of the players to get back from Currie Cup duty, but this season we had a core group here. So in terms of conditioning and preparation we’re in a better space now than what we were last year this time.”
With the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Dylan Sage, Tim Agaba and Ruhan Nel having made the switch to Fifteens, Powell explained that getting the older hands to gel with the younger energy wasn’t too tough a job. In fact, it’s a combination that he believes will stand them in good stead.
“Some of the more experienced guys have their habits and a set way of doing things, whereas the newer guys haven’t established those patterns and they adapt easily if you want to make one or two changes,” Powell said.
“In saying that I’ve also sat down with the senior guys and they were more than willing to listen and to try a few things out. A lot of the things we’re trying we tried when we played against the France Academy side to see if it can work or not. You want to see every player implement his role on the field and to play for each other and to bring energy.
I think it’s good to have some newer guys coming in because they often bring a different kind of energy, and that’s always good. I think we’re in a good space.
“I want the guys to go out there and do what they always do - focus on ourselves and not the other teams. The fact that nobody knows what to expect from other teams kind of forces you to focus on yourself, which is good.”
The Blitzboks will take on Zimbabwe, Samoa and Argentina in Pool A on Friday.
The Blitzboks squad for Dubai Sevens is:
Impi Visser (uncapped), Philip Snyman, Ryan Oosthuizen, Zain Davids, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez. Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Dewald Human, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Muller du Plessis, Selvyn Davids*.
* extra player@WynonaLouw