The Blitzboks will be sporting a new jersey to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy at the Cape Town Sevens this weekend‚ which is fitting‚ as they could do with some Madiba Magic.
This is only the second leg of the 2018-19 HSBC World Sevens Series but already distant alarm bells have rung for South Africa after last week’s disappointing sixth place in Dubai.
When you consider that they went through the entire 2017-18 campaign with a worst showing of fourth‚ it was quite a drop for the reigning World Series champions.
The performances in Dubai were inconsistent‚ which is not a word usually associated with a team that made 10 semifinals and four finals last season.
There is no singular reason for the Blitzboks’ poor start to the new campaign‚ but it is clear that losing so many stalwarts from the previous two title runs‚ is going to take some time to recover from.
Kwagga Smith‚ Dylan Sage‚ Tim Agaba and Ruhan Nel were the backbone of the defence while record try-scorer Seabelo Senatla and record points-scorer Cecil Afrika‚ provided the flair and incision. Those are players not easily replaced.
Although Impi Visser was the only debutant in Dubai‚ and there are none in Cape Town‚ the squad is still vastly inexperienced compared to previous seasons.
The other factor is that the Blitzboks are now the most prized scalp in sevens and every team lifts their game when they meet SA. That’s the honour and curse of being consistently brilliant for so long.
Neil Powell’s team just have to get used to playing with a huge target on their backs every time they take the field.
Cape Town is considered the best stop on tour as voted by players‚ and another sellout crowd of 108‚000 over the two days are expected.
SA have not won at home since the 2015-16 season and they will have to be at their best to win the title they prize most again.
With a pool containing the always dangerous Samoa and Dubai winners New Zealand‚ SA will have to be sharp and focused on day one.
The Blitzboks’ defence was unusually porous in Dubai and key playmaker Branco du Preez has urged his teammates to improve that aspect this weekend.
“We need to make better tackles‚” said Du Preez‚ one of the remaining old heads in team. He has scored 1175 points in 310 matches.
“New Zealand are playing a very basic game plan and limit their mistakes. They are also very patient on attack and only strike when they see the defence is stretching.
“So we need to make sure we make dominant tackles against them in order to throw them off their rhythm on attack.”
New Zealand coach Clark Laidlaw has been forced to make wholesale changes after losing five players in Dubai last week.
Etene Nanai-Seturo‚ Trael Joass and Taylor Haugh joined the Kiwis in Cape Town this week.
“Last weekend was quite testing with the injuries but we’ve had three good players join us who know how we want to play the game‚” said Laidlaw.
“We spent a lot of last season building depth in our squad and we saw some players really step up in Dubai.
“Looking at this weekend‚ we’re here to win. We think we can play better and the group we’ve got here is excited about getting back out there.”
The tournament kicks off at 10.15am when Canada take on Scotland in Pool D. The Blitzboks open their account against Samoa at 12.27pm.