The Blitzboks have one of the easier pool draws at the Hong Kong Sevens, but the near-fright against Japan on Friday will stand them in good stead for a possible quarter-final against USA or England.
The South Africans were trailing 7-5 at halftime, and an upset reminiscent of the 2015 Rugby World Cup opening game was on the cards.
But the Vancouver Sevens winners found some of their rhythm in the second half to register a 22-7 victory.
They have bigger fish to fry in the shape of Scotland (5.41am SA time) and Samoa (9.22am) on Saturday, but coach Neil Powell was not too perturbed about the performance against Japan.
“To have things not going your way in the first match is also not that bad, as we needed to work hard to grab the match back from Japan,” he said.
“The guys realised that we needed to start all over, and nothing is going to happen by itself, we needed to do it ourselves. I thought we laid a good foundation for the second day.
“The Japanese were very physical, with a couple of big Pacific Islanders in their team, so I am pleased with the way we defended and handled their physicality.”
“Credit to the boys”. Blitzboks coach @Neil5Powell after a hard fought 22-7 over @JRFURugby in their opening pool match @cathaypacific @OfficialHK7s @CastleFreeSA @FNBSA @ASICSRugby @ASICS_ZA pic.twitter.com/49krG1MIuV— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) April 5, 2019
The Blitzboks lost four members of the squad to injury that won the title in Canada, in the shape of Philip Snyman, JC Pretorius, Zane Davids and Muller du Plessis.
That saw 19-year-old Angelo Davids make his World Series debut on Friday, but Powell will hope that his mainstays in the current group – such as Selvyn Davids, Justin Geduld, Werner Kok and captain Siviwe Soyizwapi – stay fit on Saturday and the playoffs on Sunday.
The South Africans are bidding for their first ever Hong Kong Sevens title.
“Scotland is one of those teams capable of beating anyone on the day,” the coach said. “They play a good brand of rugby and if they get it together on the day, they are hard to defend against because they hold on to the ball well.
“The key for us would be to take away their space and not allow them to get their game flowing.
“Samoa really did well in Las Vegas and Vancouver recently, and they have brought that confidence to Hong Kong.
It is 96 tries (and counting) for @JustinGeduld and 909 points (and counting) in the @WorldRugby7s so far. The experienced playmaker is enjoying @OfficialHK7s it seems. @CastleFreeSA @ASICS_ZA @ASICSRugby @FNBSA pic.twitter.com/KGRB5iyaD6— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) April 5, 2019
“Obviously they have a coach who won here before in Gordon Tietjens and with their physical abilities, they will take the game to us. We need to counter them, make our hits and be physical at the breakdowns.”@ashfakmohamed