With ‘nothing to gain and nothing to lose’ for the Springbok Sevens team at the HSBC Paris Sevens at the Stade Jean-Bouin this weekend, Blitzbok coach Neil Powell is hopeful that the high standards they have, will deliver a positive result.
The Blitzboks are defending champions in France, but with Olympic qualification achieved, some could argue that there is not much to play for this weekend in the final of 10 tournaments on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
But Powell doesn’t agree.
“It is all about our standards,” said Powell.
“We cannot improve on our fourth spot and we cannot go down to five. It reminds me a bit of two years ago, when we had the World Series won with one tournament to go. Back then, we did not perform that well results-wise so we are keen to change that this weekend.
“We did not have the best of weekends in London, and we would like to change that around here in Paris. The players are very keen to go out there and improve on that.”
The coach shared a bit of his tactical thinking for the weekend, where he is keen to try some new combinations, amongst others.
“I want to give some of the guys who did not start a match yet, such as Sako (Makata) a chance to do so, while JC (Pretorius) is coming off an injury and could do with some game time. Also expect to see Muller (du Plessis) getting a run at centre for example,” said Powell, who added that this is not a hit and hope approach.
“It will be done without sacrificing any of our standards – we are going out there very proud to wear that jersey that means so much to all of us.”
The return to the squad of the three replacements for this tournament, Cecil Afrika, Mfundo Ndhlovu and Dewald Human, came at the right time for the squad, the coach explained.
“Some of the guys gave played in all nine tournaments to far, others have played six in a row and everyone is not necessarily on the same page mentally,” said Powell.
“The three new guys came to Paris with lots of energy, which is very valuable to the squad at this stage. Cecil has not played all season, Dewald last played in Sydney and Mfundo in Las Vegas, so they are all very keen to give it a go."
Powell makes no secret that Pool B will be a tough one for this squad.
“Both Wales and Kenya are fighting for survival in the series, so they will be coming with everything they have,” said Powell.
“Wales are very good at the breakdown technically and can punish you if not clinical. The Kenyans run hard and will be very physical, with lots of counter-rucking and we need to be ready for that.”
The final pool match against Australia should also be a thrilling one. The Aussies won their last encounter – in London last weekend – by 29-22 after dominating a number of areas of play.
“It is a good opportunity for us to play them again, to see where we are as a team and if we learned from those errors made against them,” said Powell.
The Blitzbok schedule on Saturday (SA times):
The Springbok Sevens squad:
1. Ryan Oosthuizen (16 tournaments, 77 matches, 80 points, 16 tries)
2. Sako Makata (5 tournaments, 21 matches, 10 points, two tries)
3. Impi Visser (9 tournaments, 50 matches, 55 points, 11 tries)
4. Mfundo Ndhlovu (3 tournaments, 14 matches, 15 points, 3 tries)
5. Werner Kok (46 tournaments, 234 matches, 525 points, 105 tries)
6. JC Pretorius (4 tournaments, 21 matches, 50 points, 10 tries)
7. Branco du Preez (70 tournaments, 355 matches, 1278 points, 92 tries, 406 conversions, 1 penalty, 1 drop goal)
8. Dewald Human (8 tournaments, 37 matches, 102 points, 12 tries, 21 conversions.
9. Justin Geduld (45 tournaments, 233 matches, 936 points, 101 tries, 214 conversions, 1 penalty)
10. Cecil Afrika (61 tournaments, 318 matches, 1430 points, 173 tries, 281 conversions, 1 penalty)
11. Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain; 27 tournaments, 139 matches, 440 points, 88 tries)
12. Muller du Plessis (9 tournaments, 38 matches, 125 points, 25 tries)
13. Philip Snyman (61 tournaments, 273 matches, 366 points, 67 tries, 14 conversions, 1 penalty) – travelling reserve
• The Blitzboks won the HSBC Paris Sevens in 2006, 2017, 2018.
• Branco du Preez will extend his record for the most capped Springbok Sevens player of all time, playing in his 71st tournament.
• Du Preez is also set to extend his Blitzboks record for career conversions (406), the most by any South African player.
• Cecil Afrika is set to extend his Blitzboks record for career points (1430).