Preview: NZ Sevens
The BlitzBokke head into the weekend’s Wellington Sevens in New Zealand looking for a historic third successive tournament title.
The Springbok Sevens team head into the weekend’s Wellington Sevens in New Zealand looking for a third successive tournament title in what would be a first for the South Africans.
The last time any team could win three consecutive tournaments on the IRB Sevens World Series was in 2010 when Samoa took the honours in the USA, Australia and Hong Kong.
Thanks to their recent Cup victories in Las Vegas and Port Elizabeth, South Africa currently enjoy a slender one point lead over series champions New Zealand at the top of the standings.
A much sought after win in Wellington will be the Springbok Sevens' third Cup victory of this season, equalling their achievement from the 2012/13 season.
South Africa’s last Cup success in New Zealand was 12 years ago, and on Friday the Springbok Sevens will have to navigate a strong pool consisting of Wales, Portugal and defending tournament champions England, before they can turn their attention to the knock-out stages.
After securing fourth place at the season-opening Gold Coast tournament in Australia, the Springbok Sevens struck a rich vein of form which saw them finish runners-up in Dubai before their successive wins in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, however, BlitzBok coach Neil Powell and captain Kyle Brown both cautioned against the dangers of complacency in the New Zealand capital, where the hosts and the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will no doubt enjoy huge crowd support.
Powell, in his first season as head coach of the Springbok Sevens, said the team has worked hard in training in preparation for another tough tournament.
“Although we are thankful for the Cup win in Vegas, we will not get carried away or lose focus,” said Powell. “We managed to achieve all our goals [in Las Vegas], but that event is now behind us and we have to be ready from the first whistle in Wellington.”
The USA tournament, according to Powell, was an extremely physical affair and the team was therefore grateful for the extra week’s rest, which also gave injury replacements Jamba Ulengo and Albertus “Kwagga” Smith enough time to hook up with the squad in New Zealand.
“We used the extra week as a recovery period and then made sure we hit the deck hard on the training field after arriving in Wellington. Jamba and Kwagga have slotted in well since joining us and the squad is looking forward to the challenge,” said Powell.
Powell’s caution was echoed by his captain.
"This weekend it's all about consistency and for the guys to be humbled and grounded,” explained Brown during the annual street parade in Wellington on Wednesday.
“We are not yet halfway through the season and the end hasn't been written so we know we still have a lot of work to do, which continues here in Wellington.”
Brown and his teammates are also well aware of how tough it will be to win on New Zealand soil.
“We know it is a very difficult tournament and obviously we have not won here since 2002, so we are trying to put more emphasis on it.
“We know for any side to win it will be tough, and we have a tough Day One with matches against Wales against which is always a tough game, Portugal and ending up with England.
“But just like at any other tournament we will focus on our first match first, against Wales, and that will be a good knock-out but if we can come unscathed out of the pool, who knows?”
So far this season, the Springbok Sevens have built their game around brilliant defence – they conceded only 14 points en route to victory on the narrow field at the Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas. It comes as no surprise, then, that Brown believes defence will win the tournament in Wellington.
“It will be different for all the teams this weekend, moving from the narrow pitch in Vegas to the wider one here in Wellington. There will be more emphasis on defence and teams will also have to be smarter in attack, but we are looking forward to it,” said Brown.
“We always talk about how you can get by with solid attack alone on Day One but this tournament will be won by defence and we will keep working hard on that and pushing that culture to make sure we stay solid enough to hopefully win another title.”
The hosts failed to make the Final last year and will be determined to reclaim pole position on home soil. They open their tournament against Fiji at 15.06 local time on Friday before going on to face Spain and France, with the finals to be played on Saturday.
New Zealand captain DJ Forbes commented: "It's just one game at a time. We've got a pretty tough pool. If we can do all the little things right on Day One, that'll set us up, hopefully, for a good Day Two.''
Pool A: South Africa, England, Wales, Portugal
Pool B: New Zealand, France, Fiji, Spain
Pool C: Canada, Argentina, Scotland, USA
Pool D: Samoa, Australia, Kenya, Tonga
Day One schedule - Friday, February 7:
(Kick-off times are local - GMT plus 13 hours)
Match 1: Canada v Scotland, 13.00
Match 2: Argentina v United States, 13.21
Match 3: Samoa v Kenya, 13.42
Match 4: Australia v Tonga, 14.03
Match 5: South Africa v Wales, 14.24 (03.24 SA time)
Match 6: England v Portugal, 14.45
Match 7: New Zealand v Fiji, 15.06
Match 8: France v Spain, 15.27
Match 9: Canada v United States, 15.48
Match 10: Argentina v Scotland, 16.09
Match 11: Samoa v Tonga, 16.30
Match 12: Australia v Kenya, 16.51
Match 13: South Africa v Portugal, 17.12 (06.12 SA time)
Match 14: England v Wales, 17.33
Match 15: New Zealand v Spain, 17.54
Match 16: France v Fiji, 18.35
Match 17: Scotland v United States, 18.56
Match 18: Kenya v Tonga, 19.17
Match 19: Wales v Portugal, 19.38
Match 20: Fiji v Spain, 20.28
Match 21: Canada v Argentina, 20.50
Match 22: Samoa v Australia, 21.12
Match 23: South Africa v England, 21.34 (10.34 SA time)
Match 24: New Zealand v France, 21.56