SA seeks sevens succour after XVs woe

2016-12-09 09:04
Neil Powell (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - South Africa's sevens team, the Blitzboks, handed the rugby-mad country just the boost it wanted by winning the season-opening Dubai leg of the Sevens World Series after a disastrous year for the Springbok XV.

Allister Coetzee's Springboks lost eight Tests in 2016, the most they had ever suffered in a calendar year, with the season yielding just four wins from 12 full internationals.

The season also featured a record home defeat by New Zealand and an embarrassing first-ever loss to Italy.

But the sevens team brought a breath of fresh air back to South Africa last week by beating Olympic champions Fiji 26-14 to claim the Dubai crown.

Now eyes will turn to Cape Town, where the Blitzboks will be defending champions and the two-day event starting Saturday is, encouragingly for South African rugby administrators, a sell-out.

"South Africa were determined and courageous, and made one or two tackles that other teams might not have made," said Joel Stransky, a member of South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup-winning side, of their performance in Dubai.

"The Blitzboks had that real look of true grit about them in Dubai and they looked 'properly up for it'.

"And for all of us South African rugby fans, after a disappointing 15s season, it is just the tonic we needed!"

Stransky added: "Our media is still very much filled with uncertainty around the Springboks and Allister Coetzee, the sentiment in the weekend newspapers was very negative so for the Blitzboks to come out and play so well in Dubai was inspiring to all South Africans and sports lovers.

"It was the lift that South African rugby needs at the moment and I think that will add to the whole fan experience of the Cape Town Sevens. Fans are tired of watching the Springboks lose - they want to be upbeat, to be inspired and to support a winning team."

Blitzboks coach Neil Powell was quick, however, to warn against complacency.

"We can't come into this tournament and think we can just start where we left in Dubai," said Powell, who was a player when South Africa last won the sevens series, in the 2008/2009 season.

"We need to start all over again. That will be the theme this week in our preparation, getting mentally prepared for Cape Town again. We have a really tough pool with USA, Australia and Russia so I think we are going to need a big mental shift."

Fiji head up Pool B with France, Kenya and Japan.

"We quietly feel disappointed deep inside as we didn't complete the job last week in Dubai in that final against South Africa so we are hungry just to go out there," said Fiji's Naca Cawanibuka.

"We will look at ourselves first and how we want to prepare and make sure that we put our best foot forward and be the best version of ourselves as we try and attack this last tournament and finish 2016 on a high note."

After an impressive performance in round one, Simon Amor's England top a tough Pool C which also features New Zealand, Argentina and Canada.

Pool D contains Wales, Scotland, Samoa and invitational team Uganda.


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