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With just two tournaments left in the 2018/19 World Sevens Series competition (London and Paris), the South African team has only a mathematical chance of defending their world title. The chances are slim-to-none and would require a complete implosion of form by the USA, Fiji and New Zealand, the three teams ahead of them in the standings. As the teams prepare for the penultimate tournament at Twickenham in London, South Africa are in 4th place, 9 points adrift of New Zealand and 24 behind the unlikely log leaders USA. But there is still something to play for. The top four sides qualify automatically for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo and while England trail South Africa in 5th place by 14 points, the Blitzboks will want to guarantee that 4th spot. Even a 3rd place finish would be satisfying for a team that went through a fair amount of rebuilding, blooding of new players, losing key players to injury at crucial times as well as dramatic comebacks (the wonderful win in Singapore) and record-breaking achievements (the fortitude and longevity of Branco du Preez) this season. The Blitzboks last won in London in 2011 beating Fiji in the final. Recently Twickenham hasn’t been a happy place. Last year the Blitzboks were losing finalists, they finished 5th in 2017, and lost to Scotland in the final in 2016. The Blitzboks will be wearing pink strapping around their wrists in the opening match against Japan to show support for SA Sevens Academy player Ronald Brown, who started chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last week. – David O’Sullivan
Neil Powell has seen the best of times and the worst of times at Twickenham. In 2016, the Springbok Sevens coach watched as his team lost the final of the HSBC London Sevens after the final hooter, but a year later, they were crowned HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions for the very first time under his reign at the very same venue, despite finishing 5th at Twickenham.
This time around, Powell will arrive at the iconic stadium with positive anticipation, as history will again be made and his skills as a coach tested.
Branco du Preez will make history when he becomes South Africa’s most capped Blitzbok ever, taking to the field in his 70th tournament, while the tests will come in the form of Japan, Canada and Argentina, their Pool A opponents on Saturday.
For Powell, Du Preez’s effort deserves a special mention, while he also pointed to the experienced Blitzbok’s positive attitude as one of his strengths.
“Branco is one of the best examples of what the team stand for and what values we treasure,” said Powell.
“He will always put the team first and every time he gets knocked down, he gets up stronger and more determined. He is not only a world-class player, but someone who will always try to create a positive environment within the team and our surroundings.”
9 years, 69 tournaments and 350 matches later Branco du Preez still remembers his first try in a Blitzbok jersey like it was yesterday. His debut was in Wellington in 2010. This weekend he will become the most capped Springbok 7s player ever @CastleFreeSA @FNBSA @ASICS_ZA pic.twitter.com/t7JjNFJbyX
— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) May 22, 2019
Such is the focus on the team that neither Powell nor Du Preez will have records on their mind as they lace up for the match against Japan in their opening match.
“Japan will be a very dangerous opponent,” Powell warned.
“They are in a race for survival as they need to do well here in order to stay in the World Series. So they have much to play for and we need to be ready for that. They will no doubt try and break our rhythm in those opening minutes and we need to be sharp to prevent that.”
Powell is unsure what to expect from the Canadians: “They have a new coach and it will be interesting to see how that change their mind set and approach. They are also not playing with any real pressure on them and that will make them a dangerous opponent.”
Argentina have beaten the Blitzboks this season, so Powell knows his team will not need strong motivational words to get them up for this match.
“Argentina have the ability to beat anyone and will play with very little pressure as they are not in contention to make the top four,” said Powell.
“Fact is, we will not look past that first match against Japan, as we want to start strong and lay a strong foundation.”
The Blitzboks come into the tournament with some momentum, having won the previous event in Singapore, but for Powell, the need to start fresh is important.
“We must start over, from scratch and make sure our processes are in place and that we stick to that. I am excited about the ability of the squad and is keen to see them play,” said Powell.
Springbok Sevens playmaker Stedman Gans agrees with his coach about their approach.
“Singapore is in the past,” said Gans.
“In fact, we had a nice break after that and could recharge the bodies and minds, so we will take on this tournament with clear heads.”
Gans said the team want to finish strong: “We really freshened up in the time off and all of us are raring to go. Twickenham is a wonderful stadium to play in and we want to make the most of this occasion.”
The Springbok Sevens squad:
- Ryan Oosthuizen (15 tournaments, 72 matches, 80 points, 16 tries)
- Sako Makata (4 tournaments, 16 matches, 5 points, one try)
- Impi Visser (8 tournaments, 45 matches, 50 points, 10 tries)
- Kurt-Lee Arendse (3 tournaments, 12 matches, 25 points, 5 tries)
- Werner Kok (45 tournaments, 229 matches, 510 points, 102 tries)
- JC Pretorius (3 tournaments, 16 matches, 40 points, 8 tries)
- Branco du Preez (69 tournaments, 350 matches, 1253 points, 91 tries, 396 conversions, 1 penalty, 1 drop goal)
- Selvyn Davids (13 tournaments, 64 matches, 272 points, 29 tries, 62 conversions, 1 penalty)
- Justin Geduld (44 tournaments, 228 matches, 929 points, 99 tries, 214 conversions, 1 penalty)
- Stedman Gans (17 tournaments, 80 matches, 120 points, 24 tries)
- Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain; 26 tournaments, 134 matches, 415 points, 83 tries)
- Muller du Plessis (8 tournaments, 33 matches, 105 points, 21 tries)
- Philip Snyman (60 tournaments, 272 matches, 366 points, 67 tries, 14 conversions, 1 penalty) – travelling reserve
- The Blitzboks won the HSBC London Sevens in 2005 and 2011.
- Branco du Preez will become the most capped Springbok Sevens player of all time, playing in his 70thtournament. Kyle Brown (69), Frankie Horne and Chris Dry (68) are next on the list.
- Du Preez is also set to extend his Blitzboks record for career conversions (396), the most by any South African player.
The Blitzbok schedule on Saturday (SA times):
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