Blitzboks coach Neil Powell feels his squad will need another step up if they want to be in contention at the Hamilton Sevens this weekend.
The defending champions have had a relatively quiet start to the season, finishing sixth in Dubai, and improving to finish third in Cape Town in December last year.
However, they have been placed in a competitive pool in Hamilton, with Kenya, Scotland and France.
Despite his side’s good recent record in New Zealand, including playing in three finals in the past three years, Powell is under no illusion how challenging it could be.
‘This tournament is traditionally a very tough one,’ Powell said. ‘For us, there is travel and time zones to overcome, but generally teams are all pretty competitive. It is still early in the season and everyone is fit, mentally strong and keen and had some time together as a squad.
‘All the teams also had enough time for players to recover from injuries picked up in Dubai and Cape Town, so altogether this is a high hurdle to overcome. The likes of Fiji and Samoa also see this as their home tournament, so it is really competitive.’
The Blitzboks have been boosted by the return of an experienced head in Chris Dry and the youthful energy of Stedman Gans, while Kyle Brown will equal Frankie Horne’s record of 68 Sevens series tournaments.
‘We had a good two-and-a-half weeks back home and this week went well,’ Powell added. ‘I was particularly pleased with our defence session on Thursday. We do have some new combinations that will take time to develop, but overall we are progressing nicely.
‘I have asked the guys to leave nothing out there in every match. We are not looking at our opponents, but at our own effort. If the players give all they have in those 14 minutes, and can walk off the field happy with their effort, I will be content.’
Blitzboks’ Day 1 schedule (SA times):
vs Kenya, Friday, 11:22pm
vs France, Saturday, 3:10am
vs Scotland, Saturday, 7:22am
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images