Although the Blitzboks claimed the Dubai Sevens in impressive fashion this past weekend, influential squad member Zain Davids was quick to emphasise the need for further improvements during the second Dubai tournament on Friday and Saturday.
On Saturday, the Blitzboks outplayed the United States with a dazzling display to claim another Dubai title and stretch their own unbeaten winning streak to 18 games.
Strongly built forward Davids has steadily grown into a stalwart and is now one of the more experienced players in the squad. Looking towards this weekend’s tournament, the 100kg forward said they know all too well they will have to start from scratch on Friday morning.
“It was six tough games last weekend, and the bodies were tired afterwards, but we had to restart and refocus on the new challenges coming this weekend,” said Davids, who also underlined the need to sharpen their mental readiness.
The Blitzboks face the same group of opponents as this past weekend on day one, namely Japan, Ireland and Great Britain. While they managed to qualify with ease and as top seeds from their group last Friday, the South Africans are nevertheless mindful that the other teams would have done their homework and made better plans to try and topple them.
Although they will be very familiar with their group opponents, Davids nevertheless cautioned: “We cannot underestimate anyone. We have a target on our back, and everyone knows we have to work very hard if we want to achieve anything [this coming weekend].”
Although now settled in his team role, Davids admitted he is still growing as one of the more experienced players, feeling more mature in his role. He paid tribute to former squad stalwarts who have helped him on his journey with the Blitzboks.
“I was fortunate to be able to play with and learn from players such as Philip [Snyman] and Cecil [Afrika]. They, and others, helped me a lot in terms of settling into the environment so I could be comfortable and enjoy myself,” explained Davids.
The Cape Town-born Davids is a vital cog in the team’s defensive structure, as shown by his tackling proficiency. The 19 successful tackles he completed over the two days placed him joint first in the ranking in that department, while he is also a very strong ball-carrier and a menace at the breakdown.
Last week was his 25th World Series for the Blitzboks and he increased his number of matches played up to 126. He also scored one try to take his career tally to 20 (100 points).
With the likes of Great Britain, USA and ever dangerous Fiji all looming large again this weekend, Davids and the Blitzboks will once more have to show steel in defence and clinical precision when on attack to ward off the challenge.
Meanwhile, young newcomer Tiaan Pretorius will be looking to gain more experience in only his second series outing for the Blitzboks, having made his debut last week in the UAE.
Pretorius, a versatile forward, and backline playmaker Shilton van Wyk are new faces in the squad after an assortment of injuries ruled out several regulars.
The young duo are products of the renowned Springboks Sevens Academy programme based in Stellenbosch, and both players made a scoring start to their respective series careers in Dubai.
“The first match was so fast, for me it felt like a blur,” Pretorius recalls his debutant experience, when he topped a good impact with a long-range try against Australia in this past weekend’s quarter-final clash.
“I don’t know much about the whole [try-scoring] process, but all I can remember is that the 50 metres felt like 100m to me,” he explained.
His patience and development in training with the enlarged national squad was eventually rewarded with a call-up to represent the Blitzboks in Dubai.
“I’m just so happy for the opportunity. It does not always happen that you get so much playing time in your first tournament, so I’m grateful for that and I’m just taking in as much as I can,” said Pretorius, who will no doubt be looking forward to add more experience to his new international career over the weekend.