The Blitzboks’ Olympic trial begins in Toulouse on Friday, and coach Sandile Ngcobo’s focus is on identifying the players who can handle the pressure under the spotlight.
The gold medal for Rugby Sevens at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris cannot be won in Toulouse in 2023, but don’t tell the Springbok Sevens team that.
South Africa are currently seventh on the overall World Sevens Series log with two tournaments left, and in the context of next year’s global showpiece, Ngcobo’s approach makes perfect sense.
“We had a good look at who we are playing in our pool and realised that it is actually a carbon copy of what can happen at the Olympics,” said Ngcobo.
“Considering next year’s Games, our Pool C is a ‘mini-Olympics’ of its own. Our first game on Friday is against France, who will host next year and is hosting here in Toulouse. They will have massive home support in their opening match, and we expect no favours.
“There will be no other team more motivated to beat you than France and we have them first up on Friday.
“Our second game is against Fiji, the double Olympic gold medal winners, who will be very eager to confirm their qualification status by winning the tournament. Again, we will be tested like no other by their style of play and their desire to do well.”
USA await on Saturday, and ‘Stix’ added: “They are also not guaranteed qualification and few teams will be so motivated by making it to the Olympics like USA, as they are probably the country with the proudest history and tradition at the Olympic Games in general.
“So, they will be really pumped as well. We will face three teams who will be motivated for different reasons, but all because of the Olympics.
“If we do well here and can qualify for Paris 2024, chances are that we will have to do the same again, only at a different venue. So yes, this is our Olympic trial run, despite us not having confirmed qualification. That said, we are not looking past our first game on Friday, against France in France,” explained Ngcobo.
The Blitzboks need to at least reach the semi-finals in Toulouse to stay in the race for automatic qualification for the Olympics. New Zealand and hosts France secured their tickets to Paris 2024 already, with the three remaining spots to be filled over the next two weekends.
Argentina can qualify by making the semi-finals and Fiji can secure their spot by winning the tournament.
New Zealand, Uruguay, Kenya and Canada will meet in Pool A; Argentina tackle Great Britain, Spain and Germany in Pool B; and Samoa, Australia, Japan and Ireland do battle in Pool D.
SA pool fixtures:
Friday, 12 May
v France, 2:35pm
v Fiji, 9:03pm
Saturday, 13 May
v USA, 1:49pm