PREVIEW: Hamilton Sevens
WORLD SERIES ROUND FOUR: The BlitzBoks will be looking to hold onto their lead at the top of the World Rugby Sevens Series standings in Hamilton this weekend.
Hamilton is the new stage for this year's New Zealand round, and is set to welcome more than 50 000 fans through its doors on February 3-4. Much like the tournament, teams will look at this as a fresh opportunity to get valuable points which will help them climb the series table and improve their Rugby World Cup Sevens seedings ahead of San Francisco in July.
At this stage last year, South Africa had won two of three events and were 12 points clear of second-placed Fiji but it is a lot closer this time around. While South Africa currently lead the series, it’s not by much, just four points.
"We always look for consistency in our performance and to go to two finals and a semifinal is not the worst way to start the series," said stand-in BlitzBok captain Kyle Brown.
"We weren't our best in Cape Town and last weekend Australia just blew us out of the water on that one. So, if we're going to start talking about consistency, it's about consistency through all six games of the tournament and doing that weekend to weekend."
Sikhumbuzo Notshe, who is one of the three new names in the BlitzBoks' squad this weekend, wants to make a solid contribution to the BlitzBoks' cause before he returns to the Stormers for their Super Rugby campaign next week, and he is confident that he will return to Cape Town as a better player.
Notshe joined the sevens programme in October last year, was selected for the SA Rugby Sevens Academy side that played in Dubai in December and got his BlitzBok call-up for the Australasian leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series. The former Wynberg Boys' High learner made his BlitzBoks debut in Sydney last weekend, when he replaced injured Ruhan Nel and is now keen to make the most of his remaining time with the squad here in Hamilton.
"There are a couple of areas where I feel that I improved in the last couple of months – my skills benefitted, as did my work rate," said Notshe.
“My one-on-one skills on defence and beating players on attack certainly benefitted as well, as did my work at the breakdown – the guys spend a lot of time working on that area, on attack and defence."
Meanwhile, hosts New Zealand will also be looking to get back on track after coming up short against eventual Sydney Sevens winners Australia. However, that's not stopping Tim Mikkelson relishing the opportunity to play in his home town of Hamilton.
"It's good to be back, anytime you come home it’s something special," said the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year in 2013.
"We've got a few boys in our team who are from Hamilton so to get to play in front of your friends and family at home is always great. We do a lot of travelling and they watch us a lot on TV so for them to see us live in person is pretty motivating for us."
(Kick-off is local time - GMT plus 13 hours)
Saturday, February 3:
Kenya v Samoa - 11.00
USA v Canada - 11.22
England v Russia - 11.44
South Africa v Papua New Guinea - 12.06
Fiji v Wales - 12.36
Australia v Spain - 12.58
New Zealand France - 13.20
Argentina v Scotland - 13.42
Kenya v Canada - 14.26
USA v Samoa - 14.48
England v Papua New Guinea - 15.10
South Africa v Russia - 15.32
Fiji v Spain - 16.02
Australia v Wales - 16.24
New Zealand v Scotland - 16.46
Argentina v France - 17.08
Samoa v Canada - 18.00
USA v Kenya - 18.22
Russia v Papua New Guinea - 18.44
South Africa v England - 19.06
Wales v Spain - 19.28
Australia v Fiji - 19.50
France v Scotland - 20.12
Argentina v New Zealand - 20.34