• Blitzboks embrace pressure

    The Blitzboks are viewing the South African public’s great expectations as a positive ahead of the Cape Town Sevens tournament this weekend. JON CARDINELLI reports.

    Last week, South Africa won the first leg of the 2016/17 World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai. They will head into the second leg of the series with confidence and momentum, and will take heart from the fact that they have won the last three tournaments staged on South African soil.

    The Blitzboks are favourites to win the Cape Town Sevens this weekend, and with the favourites tag comes the pressure to perform. It could also be said that, after a terrible year for South African rugby that’s seen the Springboks losing eight of their 12 Tests, the onus is on the Blitzboks to give local fans something to celebrate.

    The Blitzboks are all too aware of the expectations that are building ahead of the tournament. After training on Tuesday, squad members Ruhan Nel and Dylan Sage said that the pressure could bring out the best in the team.

    ‘It is something that the team has touched on,’ said Nel. ‘The pressure will continue to build as the week wears on. There is pressure to keep that winning streak at home going. Rugby is born into us [as South Africans] so the public will always expect a Bok side to win at home.

    ‘We won’t hammer on about it, though. We would rather focus on this tournament in isolation. We won’t want for motivation. The opportunity to play in front of your family and friends only comes once a year, and so this is a massive occasion for all of us.'

    Sage said that the team needed to find a balance in terms of its mental approach to the coming home tournament.

    ‘You have to embrace the pressure that comes with a tournament like this,’ Sage said. ‘You also need to understand that everything starts again. We won in Dubai, but this is a new week. We will take some confidence out of that recent win, but we will also be looking to take aspects of our game to a new level this weekend.’

    The Blitzboks’ success in Dubai was built on an excellent defensive performance. The work at the breakdown really set the South Africans apart from all other Cup contenders.

    Sage confirmed that the Blitzboks are aiming to be at the top of their defensive game in the second leg of the series.

    ‘We’ve worked really hard on our defence over the past few months. We’re a defence team.

    ‘We did well in that area in Dubai. It was great to see the patience shown at the breakdowns. Even if it took five or six phases, the guys were very composed and waited until the time was right to make the turnover or to disrupt the recycle.’

    No doubt coach Neil Powell will want to see more of the same at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday and Sunday.

    Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

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    Jon Cardinelli