The Springbok Sevens will be aiming for a third title in four years at the Las Vegas Sevens this weekend.
The BlitzBokke head into the fourth round of the IRB Sevens World Series in Las Vegas off the back of an emotional Cup win on home soil in December.
Just days after the sad passing of former South African President Nelson Mandela, the BlitzBokke came from 0-14 behind to beat New Zealand 17-14 and lift their first Cup of the season at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, sparking unforgettable scenes.
Kyle Brown, who lifted the Cup as captain, believes that triumph has boosted his side’s morale ahead of this weekend’s tournament.
“It was an incredible weekend to be involved with,” said Brown, who is set to play in his 37th world series event in Las Vegas. “We woke up on Friday and heard the sad news of Tata Madiba’s passing and it was moving to say the least.
“To be involved in a weekend like that, where everything fell into place and worked out as it did, it was really something incredible and one of those unforgettable weekends.
“It didn’t really sink in for a couple of weeks when we met people who had seen it, watched it on TV, those who helped and enjoyed the weekend with us. That made me feel really special and realise it was something different and incredible for our team.
“I think getting a tournament win anywhere is great for morale and great for us in terms of what we’re trying to do in the circuit.”
That win means Brown and his teammates now sit just two points behind the reigning series champions and leaders New Zealand and are the only side other than New Zealand to have finished in the top four at each of the first three rounds.
It is that consistency which South Africa are looking for this season and South Africa have a rich history at the Sam Boyd Stadium, having won two of the last three tournaments in Las Vegas.
The South Africans, however, will first have to navigate a strong Pool A which consists of Wales, Canada and Kenya.
Much has been made about the size of the field, which is not as wide as the usual pitch layout. However, according to Brown, the layout will not give any team a specific advantage.
The Springbok Sevens captain wants the team to maintain their good showing on defence. “We have worked really hard on our defensive approach because that is such a key aspect of the game.
“The world series is an extremely tough competition, which requires full focus and commitment in every match, whether you’re defending or attacking,” explains Brown.
Neil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, made three changes to the squad that won in Port Elizabeth, with Rosko Specman, Stephan Dippenaar and Seabelo Senatla replacing Cheslin Kolbe (Stormers), Albertus “Kwagga” Smith (Golden Lions) and Steven Hunt respectively.
Junior Springbok speedster Senatla returns from injury for his first world series outing of the season, while Pumas flyer Specman is set to make his world series debut after impressing in recent tournaments for the South African Sevens Academy squad.
Brown said their goal is to reach the last four. “The win in PE gave the team a huge boost and we want to keep our consistency by reaching the last four in the Cup competition. If we can do that then we will stay in touch with the front-runners on the log table.
“We have a great squad with some incredible players on the fringes that are knocking hard on the door. I’m sure that makes selection a lovely nightmare for the coach, but it also means that you have to work incredibly hard to keep your place in the squad.”
Pool A: South Africa, Kenya, Wales, Canada
Pool B: New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, Scotland
Pool C: Samoa, Portugal, England, Uruguay
Pool D: Argentina, France, United States, Spain
Pool stage schedule:
(Kick-off times are local – GMT minus eight hours)
Friday, February 24
Match 1: South Africa v Wales, 16.00 (Saturday, February 25; 02.00 SA time)
Match 2: Kenya v Canada, 16.22
Match 3: New Zealand v Australia, 16.44
Match 4: Fiji v Scotland, 17.06
Match 5: Samoa v England, 17.28
Match 6: Portugal v Uruguay 17.50
Match 7: Argentina v United States, 18.12
Match 8: France v Spain, 18.34
Match 9: South Africa v Canada, 18.56 (Saturday, February 25; 04.56 SA time)
Match 10: Kenya v Wales, 19.18
Match 11: New Zealand v Scotland, 19.40
Match 12: Fiji v Australia, 20.02
Match 13: Samoa v Uruguay, 20.24
Match 14: Portugal v England, 20.46
Match 15: Argentina v Spain, 21.08
Match 16: France v United States, 21.30
Saturday, February 25
Match 17: Wales v Canada, 12.00
Match 18: Australia v Scotland, 12.22
Match 19: England v Uruguay, 12.44
Match 20: Argentina v France, 13.06
Match 21: Samoa v Portugal, 13.28
Match 22: New Zealand v Fiji, 13.50
Match 23: South Africa v Kenya, 14.12 (Sunday, February 26; 00.12 SA time)
Match 24: United States v Spain, 14.34
(Quarterfinals start at 16.24)
(Semifinals and finals to be played on Sunday, February 26 from 09.20)