Blitzboks prepare for World Rugby Sevens Series opener in Dubai

JOHANNESBURG — The South African Sevens team was the standout national sports team of the past year, with an emphatic victory in the 2016/17 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. They had a comfortable 28-point winning margin over second-placed England, winning five of the 10 tournaments in the season and finishing runners-up three times. The American speedster Perry Baker was the season’s top try-scorer with 57 tries, with Seabelo Senatla in fourth place with just 32 tries (and he only played in the first half of the season). The South African success was due to all the players helping themselves to tries, instead of relying on one key player to do the job. Every player in the squad made a significant contribution to the team’s success. Two Blitzboks made the Dream Team at the end of the season – Chris Dry and Rosko Specman. The team was justifiably named Team of the Year at the SA Sports Awards. Now the Blitzboks face huge expectations – can they repeat that dominant performance? There’s no reason why not. Coach Neil Powell has the same key players at his disposal, boosted by the return of experienced players such as Kyle Brown and Justin Geduld from injury, and Senatla and Kwagga Smith from Super Rugby commitments. It’s the most experienced South African Sevens squad ever assembled. – David O’Sullivan

From SA Rugby

Springbok Sevens forward Kwagga Smith is not only determined to add another successful stint with the Blitzboks to his already impressive rugby CV, he also wants to improve his skill set as a player, something he is almost guaranteed to do in the next couple of months on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

The 2017/18 series starts on Friday, when the Emirates Airlines Dubai Sevens opens the ten tournament showpiece and for Smith, who experienced the ups and downs of rugby in 2016, it is another opportunity to grow and to improve as a player.

Image courtesy of Twitter @Blitzboks

“It was a great year for me, considering all the teams I played for did well,” Smith said shortly after the team arrived in Dubai.

“Dubai was fairly significant in that, as it was where it all started for the Blitzboks, getting the win and starting the season on a winning note. After that I also experienced a first win in Wellington, another box ticked off my bucket list with the boys.”

Smith tasted tournament victories in three of the four tournaments he played for South Africa in the series and continued to impress in the fifteens code, playing for the Emirates Lions.

Smith was unfortunately red-carded in the final of Vodacom Super Rugby, but he took solace in the fact that his rugby friends supported him in that tough time.

“We had a great season in Vodacom Super Rugby and although I was sent off in that final, I learned a lot from that experience,” said Smith.

“You find athletes preparing for the 100 metres final of the Olympics only to get false-started, and their race is over before it had begun. We are all human, we all make mistakes. It is how you recover from such misfortunes – that is what people will remember.

“The Blitzboks form part of my close circle of friends and they were some of the first ones to pick me up again after that incident. They held no grudges, instead, they supported me all the way, so it was easy to come back into this group.”

Smith tasted the sweet in playing fifteens a couple of months later, when he was named Man of the Match for the Barbarians in a highly entertaining match against the All Blacks earlier this month.

He is not dwelling on that performance anymore, as satisfying as it was on many levels, and is rather keen to push the boundaries with the Blitzboks again.

“My mind-set or goals did not change, despite success and misfortune,” said Smith.

“I still strive to become a better player and person every day. Nothing has changed and it is great to be in an environment where everyone else feel the same.

“Sevens rugby takes no prisoners. You have to perform at your very best if you want to be successful. It is not easy, in fact, it is pretty tough. I don’t see this as a challenge though, rather another opportunity to grow as a player.”

After winning the HBSC World Rugby Sevens Series with the Blitzboks earlier this year, Ruhan Nel did not relax and enjoy the fruits of his labour, but rather jumped straight into the blue and white hoops of DHL Western Province for their SuperSport Rugby Challenge campaign.

This move was rewarded when the Capetonians won the inaugural tournament, but more silverware awaited Nel, who represented the Xerox Golden Lions and Tafel Lager Griquas at wing earlier in his career.

Playing at inside centre, outside centre and wing for DHL Western Province in the Currie Cup, Nel then lifted South Africa’s premier domestic trophy as well, giving him a unique triple for the year.

Now back with the Blitzboks for another World Series, his thirst for trophies is far from over, Nel confirmed.

“The fifteens certainly helped me improve my contact skills and physicality, while I found it easier to identify space and to get my defensive alignment correct, thanks to my sevens experience, so the benefit worked both ways. “I certainly feel that I had the best of both worlds. “

Nel performed very well for the Blitzboks last season, playing in all 10 tournaments and becoming a regular starter for the team, so it is not surprising that he is looking for another solid contribution.

“It is always an honour to play for the Blitzboks and this new season brings new challenges,” said Nel.

“We also have the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens this season, so it is very easy to be motivated.”

Tim Agaba, meanwhile, applauded the impact the Blitzboks had on his career. Although he missed the first half of the series-winning season due to an ankle injury, the big forward also hopped over to fifteens, where he represented the Vodacom Blue Bulls in the Currie Cup.

“Unfortunately I was injured early on in the campaign, so I am very happy to be back in the team at the start of the new season,” said Agaba.

“The skills your pick up in sevens certainly aid your development to be a better fifteens players, not the other way around,” he feels.

Agaba could play in his 50th match for the Blitzboks against Uganda, his country of birth in the opening match of the South African campaign, but he chooses to rather focus on the outcomes for the team, rather than individual achievements.

“It is great to be back with the guys and hopefully we can do well again. We will keep our feet on the ground and keep on working hard. We believe that if we stick to our standards, everything else will take care of itself.”

South Africa’s schedule for Friday, 1 December is (SA kick-off times):

08h52: Uganda
12h36: Kenya
17h53: Canada

Source: http://www.sarugby.co.za/article.aspx?category=sarugby/sevens&id=4185744 & http://www.sarugby.co.za/article.aspx?category=sarugby/sevens&id=4186194

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