Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell is fully aware of what it takes to finish top of the podium at the Dubai Sevens and hopes for a good start from his team this season.
The Dubai tournament – the first of ten in the 2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series – starts at The Sevens Stadium on Thursday, with the Blitzboks playing Kenya in their only match of the day.
According to Powell, who lifted the trophy more than once as a player, the Blitzboks arrived in Dubai confident after two good months of preparation in Stellenbosch.
‘We also played in a warm-up tournament, so a lot of things we wanted to do have happened – but the real test remains here in Dubai when the tournament and series start,’ said Powell.
South Africa have won the Dubai title six times before and for Powell a good start has always indicated what the season has in store for the Blitzboks.
‘The pre-season normally manifests itself here and in Cape Town next weekend, but I think we have laid a good foundation for the opening two weeks,’ explained Powell.
‘There are a couple of challenges, though. We needed to get through the 10-hour flight and its effects, and then a slight mindset change as the tournament is now starting a day earlier and will be played over three days and not the usual two.’
Powell is happy with the preparation done this week, the former Blitzboks captain satisfied with both his team’s attack and defence sessions.
‘We have a couple of new things that we will try and test this weekend. It worked well on the training pitch, but only a live match will give you the real result,’ added Powell.
Powell brought back some players with the Olympic Games in 2020 in mind. The likes of Dylan Sage, Seabelo Senatla and Ruhan Nel missed last season’s series, but they are back in action where they won the last time they played in Dubai.
‘We have the Olympics as an end goal, but everyone realises the here-and-now aspect of Dubai. The focus is here, and we are looking for the effort this weekend,’ continued Powell.
‘Those guys [Sage, Senatla and Nel] have worked hard with us in the last couple of weeks to fit back into our systems. They have individual excellence, but it will be how they fit into the overall team structure that will determine their successful return or not.
‘Our objectives for the weekend are quite simple – we want to build a good foundation, not only for next weekend, but for the remainder of the season. We want to do well and get the pointers on those things we are doing right.’
Meanwhile, Powell will also be keeping an eye on the performances of the SA Rugby Sevens Academy team, who begin their campaign against the Royal Jesters in the International Invitational tournament on Thursday.
Several Blitzbok stalwarts will be in action, with Powell eager to see the progress made by new recruit Hacjivah Dayimani, as well as Werner Kok, who returned from the French Top 14 recently.
The Blitzboks face Kenya at 5:54pm [SA time] in Pool D. They take on Spain and England in their remaining pool fixtures on Friday. The Academy side take on the Royal Jesters at 11:20am and French Military at 1:20pm on Thursday.
1. Chris Dry (68 tournaments, 342 matches; 465 points, 93 tries)
2. Ryan Oosthuizen (17 tournaments, 83 matches; 85 points, 17 tries)
3. Dylan Sage (24 tournaments, 134 matches; 155 points, 31 tries)
4. Zain Davids (18 tournaments, 88 matches; 60 points, 12 tries)
5. JC Pretorius (five tournaments, 27 matches; 55 points; 11 tries)
6. Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain; 28 tournaments, 145 matches; 445 points, 89 tries)
7. Selvyn Davids (14 tournaments, 69 matches; 300 points; 31 tries, 71 conversions, 1 penalty)
8. Rosko Specman (28 tournaments, 150 matches; 380 points; 70 tries, 15 conversions)
9. Justin Geduld (46 tournaments, 239 matches; 951 points; 104 tries, 214 conversions, 1 penalty)
10. Kurt-Lee Arendse (4 tournaments, 16 matches; 45 points, 9 tries)
11. Seabelo Senatla (39 tournaments, 203 matches; 1120 points, 224 tries)
12. Ruhan Nel (28 tournaments, 147 matches; 247 points; 49 tries, 1 conversion)
13. Christi Grobbelaar (on debut).