Blitzboks coach Neil Powell says he expects this season of the World Rugby Sevens Series to be a ‘rollercoaster’ ride, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand are currently deadlocked on 69 points at the top of the series standings, and while it looks likely to be a three-horse race to the title, there are still six tournaments to be played.
Argentina, England and Australia have all played in a Cup final this season, while dark horses such as the United States and Kenya have shown that they have the potential to be a competitive force.
‘I think it’s going to be a rollercoaster of a season, there will be a lot of teams that will make finals and win tournaments,' Powell commented. 'I think the USA are one of the teams that will produce some surprises along the way, and they’ll back themselves at home in Las Vegas. I think it’s going to be a very interesting season.’
Although the Blitzboks managed to finish fourth at this past weekend’s Sydney Sevens, they ended the tournament with disappointing defeats to Australia and Fiji.
Having again been disrupted by injuries, Powell said they would take some time to reflect on their performances, and to assess their injured players.
‘Against Australia there were a lot of basic errors that cost us that game, we need to learn the lesson that when you play in knockout games like that, those basic errors will count against you and teams will punish you.
‘When we played Fiji, we needed to give an opportunity to the likes of Dylan Sage, Carel [du Preez] and Tim [Agaba] to gain experience. It’s not that they weren’t talented enough, but they didn’t have the experience to play against a quality team like Fiji.’
The series will next head to Las Vegas and Vancouver in March, and Powell said they’d have to give careful consideration to the composition of their squad for those two legs.
‘We’ve already lost quite a few players to injury, so we will have to take stock now and see who we have available. Guys will need some time for rest and recovery, and it will be important to find the right balance.’
Two of the Blitzboks’ star players, Cheslin Kolbe and Juan de Jongh, are now also expected to return to the Stormers for the start of Super Rugby.
‘Although it’s a game of rugby, they [sevens and 15s] are very different types of games and require different habits,’ Powell said. ‘Just looking at Juan de Jongh over the last two months he’s been with us, he’s learned a lot and has developed a lot of sevens habits that will help him when he comes back to us. It’s not easy [making the transition from 15s to sevens], and I think all the 15s players now realise that there are no shortcuts. There is no place to hide on the sevens field.’
Photo: Renee McKay/Getty Images