Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell was quietly confident that his Blitzboks team can continue their good form in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series at this weekend’s HSBC/Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens.
The South Africans have contested all six finals played so far in the series, and will be chasing their first title in Hong Kong when the tournament starts on Friday morning (SA time).
Powell feels that the intensity at training pointed to his team being switched on for the task at hand.
“I am happy with our preparation, with all 13 players on the field working hard,” said Powell.
“We had to nurse some of the guys back to fitness in Stellenbosch, in order to get them here, but there was no sign of slacking on the field, so I am pleased with the intensity, as that is always a good sign.”
Powell has selected four players who have not experienced the cauldron of the Hong Kong National Stadium before. Selvyn Davids will make his debut here, Stedman Gans and Zain Davids are fairly new to the series and Dylan Sage did not travel to Hong Kong last year in his first full season on circuit.
“The youngsters are improving all the time. They will make mistakes, but that is part of the growth of any player,” Powell said.
“I am pleased how they progressed, they now need some playing team on the field. We have a balanced side, with a number of stalwarts and some exciting talent coming off the bench, so we are hoping to again give a good account of ourselves.”
The coach admitted that their Hong Kong track record was not good, compared to teams such as Fiji, New Zealand and Samoa.
“Fiji and New Zealand tend to lift themselves when playing here, so we will have to be at our very best if we want to compete,” said Powell.
“We never want make Hong Kong bigger than it is and with all the focus on getting the injured guys back and managing them, we almost forgot which tournament it was we are preparing for, so we arrived without the hype this time.”
Powell was also very proud of stalwart Cecil Afrika, who will be running out in his 50th tournament.
“Cecil understands this game. He is a strong leader and few players deserve this more than Cecil. Maybe we can also reward him with a tournament win, like we did with Branco du Preez in Las Vegas,” the coach said.
Afrika himself said he will enjoy the moment: “I never expected to reach 50 tournaments way back when I played in my first back in Dubai in 2009. To play one tournament is already an achievement, so I am pretty proud.
“I can still recall that first touch, coming off the bench. I had to throw into the line-out, something that was not a strong suit of mine. My hands were pretty sweaty. I also fondly remembers my first try a week later in George. It was against France. I also managed two more for my first hat-trick.”
Afrika suffered a number of set-backs, including a serious knee injury in Hong Kong.
“My first knee injury was a bad one and the original thought was that was I would be lucky to have one more season left,” said Afrika.
“So I had to work very hard during the rehab to make sure I look after myself and extend my career. A couple of years later I was named Player of the Tournament here in Hong Kong, so that was a good feeling after my previous memory of the injury.”
The South African team (with number of tournaments and points) is:
1. Chris Dry (58, 430)
2. Philip Snyman (43, 256)
3. Dylan Sage (13, 75)
4. Zain Davids (4, 0)
5. Werner Kok (25, 285)
6. Siviwe Soyizwapi (8, 85)
7. Branco du Preez (51, 982)
8. Tim Agaba (7, 25)
9. Selvyn Davids (0, 0)
10. Cecil Afrika (49, 1204)
11. Stedman Gans (2, 0)
12. Ruhan Nel (17, 160).
13. Ryan Oosthuizen (0, 0)*
• Cecil Afrika will play in his 50th tournament for South Africa in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Only four Blitzboks have achieved this before – Frankie Horne, Chris Dry, Kyle Brown and Branco du Preez.
• Afrika could also extend his Blitzboks all-time scoring record – he is currently on 1204 points.
• Branco du Preez (982 points) could become only the second South African player to score 1000 points in the World Series, with Afrika the other.
• Selvyn Davids will become the third debutant to the Springbok Sevens team in the 2016/17 season. Zain Davids made his debut in Wellington (Round 3) and Stedman Gans in Las Vegas (Round 5). Davids will be Blitzbok #164.