A well-balanced Blitzboks squad will be determined to make an early statement in this weekend’s opening leg of the 2018-19 World Rugby Sevens Series, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
One of the South African rugby highlights of 2018 can be traced back to 10 June, when the Blitzboks retained their Sevens Series crown on a dramatic final day of action in Paris.
Heading into that final tournament, Fiji looked a sure bet to clinch the title after a standout season in which they had impressively won five tournaments. However, a fifth-place finish in France opened the door for the Blitzboks, who duly overcame England in the Cup final to win the series by just two log points.
As a new season kicks off in Dubai on Friday, increased expectations will again be placed on the back-to-back champs, who will face a test of their squad depth and game progression.
The Blitzboks will head into this series without the services of stalwarts such as Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla, who are focusing on fifteens, but they do welcome back the fit-again Kyle Brown and Branco du Preez.
Philip Snyman will again lead the side into battle, with regulars such as Werner Kok, Justin Geduld and Siviwe Soyizwapi further bolstering a squad that looks quite capable of kicking off the 2018-19 season in fine fashion.
It goes without saying that the Blitzboks will have a target on their back, with Fiji sure to be out for revenge, while New Zealand, England, Australia and even the USA are likely to offer plenty of threats.
For day one of the Dubai leg, the Blitzboks have been grouped with Argentina, Samoa and Zimbabwe, and they will be fully aware of the need to hit the ground running.
The Springbok Sevens will have fond memories of Dubai, where they once again won the Emirates Trophy last year, but coach Neil Powell has pointed out that it’s particularly difficult to know what to expect from your opponents in this season opener.
It’s always an especially important tournament for the Blitzboks ahead of their home tournament in Cape Town next weekend. In recent seasons, the Blitzboks have become renowned as a team that is capable of using both their physical defence and an astute kicking game as additional weapons to complement their attacking arsenal.
Having now completed an intensive pre-season regime, it will certainly be interesting to see what tricks the Blitzboks may have up their sleeve as a new season gets under way on Friday.
Schedule for Friday (SA times):
8:52am vs Zimbabwe
12:36pm vs Samoa
5:53pm vs Argentina.
Blitzboks squad – Impi Visser, Philip Snyman (c), Ryan Oosthuizen, Zain Davids, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Dewald Human, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Muller du Plessis, *Selvyn Davids (replacement player).
Captains preview: “I remember like yesterday, 10 years ago, with @kylegbrown making our debut here [#Dubai7s]” @Blitzboks’ Philip Snyman speaks ahead of the #Dubai7s #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/JFpt66QjRN
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) November 28, 2018
Photo: Sandra Ruhaut/Getty Images