Blitzbokke chasing first Hong Kong title
The Springbok Sevens will have an unprecedented sixth HSBC Sevens World Series Cup Final in their sights when the prestigious Hong Kong Sevens kicks off early on Friday morning (SA time).
Only two points separate the Blitzbokke and New Zealand at the top of the World Series standings, and adding to their motivation, the South Africans will be especially eager to win their first Hong Kong Sevens title. This will also halt a run of defeats in two consecutive World Series tournament deciders in Wellington and Tokyo.
Their impressive run of form and level of consistency have resulted in a number of milestones for the team this season. The Springbok Sevens have so far managed to reach the semi-final of each of the previous six World Series events. Their five Cup Final appearances have yielded consecutive tournament titles in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas, and the lowest position the team has finished at any tournament this season is fourth, at the Gold Coast in Australia.
Forward veteran Frankie Horne will achieve the remarkable feat of playing in his 58th consecutive World Series tournament, while fellow forward Chris Dry will reach a milestone 35th appearance for his country.
This weekend the team welcomes back prolific points machine and attacking playmaker Cecil Afrika, who missed the Tokyo outing because of a hamstring strain. Apart from the added firepower of the former IRB Sevens Player of the Year, the South African coach Neil Powell will also be hoping for more of the same from burly back Werner Kok.
After making his debut last season at Twickenham, the former SA Sevens Academy and Western Province U19 star has delivered some sterling performances for the Blitzboks. His super-sub performances for the team have not gone unnoticed, and was illustrated by the inclusion of his name in both the Wellington and Tokyo Dream Teams.
The huge prize money on offer, dazzling razzmatazz and the prestige associated with the tournament makes the Hong Kong Sevens one of the main attractions for the teams.
From a South African perspective however, both the coach and captain have stressed that the Blitzbokke will not be distracted by the glittering attractions or the temptation to change their approach in order to win the sought-after title.
Coach Powell said he will be looking for the same focus and intensity as last week in Tokyo, but cautioned his team to start the tournament much better.
“It is vital for us to have a much better start because we will be competing against good teams in our pool for a qualifying spot in the quarterfinals,” explained Powell.
“We cannot wait again until the knockout stages to kick into gear because Australia, France and Spain are all strong sides and we will be in trouble if we don’t get it right from the start against either of them.”
Captain Kyle Brown said the team will not change their approach in Hong Kong: “There are a lot of attractions here and I suppose it can be distracting for some and motivating for others.”
Brown said his team is looking forward to play in the big tournament.
“The weather has been great so far, it is nice and warm which is similar to what we are used to back home. Overall, our approach will be exactly the same as that for all the other tournaments this season. However, there are some areas in which we want to improve and we also want to increase our focus,” he explained.
The current squad is a very settled combination and according to Brown, this aspect has helped him in his captaincy. “The capability and maturity of the squad makes it much easier for me as the captain. It is great to play with guys that take care of themselves on the field and who make sure we stick to the game plan,” added Brown, who will be playing in his 40th tournament.
South Africa plays one match on Friday, against France, with the remaining pool fixtures against Spain and Australia on Saturday. The quarter-finals, semi-finals and various final matches are scheduled for Sunday.
The Springbok Sevens Pool B fixtures in Hong Kong (SA times, live on SuperSport):
Friday 28 March
15h04 - South Africa vs France
Saturday, 29 March
06h40 - South Africa vs Spain
12h54 - South Africa vs Australia
Springbok Sevens squad: Chris Dry, Philip Snyman, Frankie Horne, Kwagga Smith, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Stephan Dippenaar, Justin Geduld, Jamba Ulengo, Cecil Afrika, Seabelo Senatla.