Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The Springbok Sevens side may have finished off last season’s HSBC World Series with a bang, but the pressure is firmly on them to make a solid start in the season’s opening tournament on the Gold Coast in Australia.
The return of playmaker and IRB Sevens player of the year Cecil Afrika from a broken cheekbone has been a massive boost for the BlitzBokke, who will relish the advent of the new season and a new seeding system going forward.
With the new system favouring teams that perform consistently in the series, the Blitzbokke will have more than enough motivation to do well as they open their tournament against the USA before facing Japan and hosts Australia later in the day.
Last season the Blitzbokke rallied at the end to finish second in the overall standings, hampered by the old seeding system which placed them up against Fiji almost every quarterfinal while other teams faced easier routes in the playoff rounds.
But this time, with an experienced and stronger side, and with Afrika’s magic back in the side, coach Paul Treu is confident of a good start.
Treu is a seasoned campaigner on the circuit, and knows all too well the dangers. This is why the first game against the Yanks is important to him, especially as it will set the tone for the team’s performance through the tournament.
“People mention that we won in Edinburgh, but Edinburgh was back in May, that’s a long time ago,” Treu told SuperSport.com, “There are a lot of changes and all the teams will have new tricks up their sleeves for this first tournament.
“This is why the first game is so tricky. You haven’t had the luxury of seeing the teams in action and they can surprise you. We can’t assume anything at this stage and we know we will have to be at our best if we are to get a good start to the tournament.”
Treu points to the fact that the gap between the eight core teams seems to lessen with each year, especially now that most nations have embarked on long term planning for the Olympic Games in 2016.
“We saw how tight it was in London and Scotland and we know the games will be just as difficult here. Teams get better every year.”
And with the Blitzbokke being refused the services of try-scoring hero Sibusiso Sithole and his team-mates Tshotsho Mbovane and Paul Jordaan by the Sharks because of their inclusion in the wider Sharks training squad; he has managed to select a strong team in any case.
The wildcard for this weekend’s tournament has to be the return of Robert Ebersohn to Sevens rugby after a two year absence. After making his name in the Series, and producing tournament winning performances in Adelaide in his last visit to Sevens in Australia much will be expected of him.
But Treu is a firm believer in the team focus, and Ebersohn and Afrika will need the help of their team-mates if they are to negotiate their way through the pool stages and Saturday’s playoff rounds.
The team set the bar high for themselves with their late season rally earlier this year.
Now they have to take it a step further, and not only set the bar for the tournament, but for all the teams to follow.
Springbok Sevens squad for round 1 HSBC Sevens World Series in Australia:
1. Chris Dry
2. Kyle Brown (captain)
3. Frankie Horne
4. Boom Prinsloo
5. Chase Minnaar
6. Paul Delport
7. Renfred Dazel
8. Mark Richards
9. Steven Hunt
10. Bernado Botha
11. Robert Ebersohn
12. Cecil Afrika
Blitzbokke match times (all live on SuperSport)
06:47: SA vs. USA
09:53: SA vs. Japan
13:36: SA vs. Australia