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For the second time in this season’s World Sevens Series, this weekend’s Sydney Sevens will feature the new format which puts increased pressure on teams in the pool stages. No longer do the top two teams qualify for a quarterfinal round. Instead, the top teams in the four groups go straight through to the semi-finals. Previously a team that underperformed in the group stage yet managed to clinch second place could raise their game in the knockout stages. Now there’s everything to play for in each of the three pool matches. The new format threw the normally reliable Blitzboks off kilter in the group stage in Hamilton last weekend where they surprisingly lost their pool match against England and were unable to move into the elite Cup competition knockout stage. The team has had a week to work out what went wrong. It certainly wasn’t a lack of experience, not with Cecil Afrika and Branco du Preez coming into the squad with 135 tournaments between them. It could have been as simple as not being good enough on the day, as captain Stedman Gans put it. The Blitzboks know that another disastrous performance this weekend in Sydney along with a strong performance by log leaders New Zealand will make their chances of winning the World Sevens Series title extremely thin. – David O’Sullivan
The Blitzboks have not have forgotten the disappointment of a sub-standard performance last week in Hamilton, but stand-in captain Stedman Gans says this has been overshadowed by the excitement of a new opportunity to be the best team they can be and to play to their potential.
Gans will lead the Springbok Sevens team for the second time in the HSBC Sydney Sevens, where they will line up against France, Argentina and Samoa in Pool B at Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta on Saturday.
With the 10th place finish in New Zealand behind them and valuable lessons learned from the rare under-achievement in the third leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, the Blitzboks – who are in second place on the overall log with France – will enter their pool as third seeds. With the format of the tournament again seeing only the pool winners advancing to the Cup semi-final, the pressure on the side will be intense.
Gans placed the blame for the Hamilton disappointment squarely on the team, rather than the competition format, and said the experience within the squad was sufficient not to allow the competition structure to impact on their performances.
— AU 7s (@Aussie7s) January 29, 2020
“Our squad had close to 400 tournaments worth of experience and that must be enough to adapt to a change in format,” said Gans. “We just did not perform the way we were expected to and we deserved those results.
“We were just not good enough, to be honest.
“Our standards dropped and that was disappointing for us as a group.
“But the exciting part of this week is that we have another chance at it, and we cannot let this opportunity slip.”
The Blitzboks had a close encounter with Argentina the last time the sides crossed paths (winning 12-5 in Dubai in December), and Gans knows the opening match will be very competitive.
“Our focus at every tournament goes into that first game and what we need to do to establish our style of play over theirs,” he said. “The other teams are getting better every year, but we would also like to believe that we are improving as a squad.”
The squad for the HSBC Sydney Sevens is:
- Chris Dry (71 tournaments, 358 matches; 480 points, 96 tries)
- Angelo Davids (three tournaments, 15 matches; 25 points, five tries)
- Impi Visser (12 tournaments, 61 matches; 65 points, 13 tries)
- Zain Davids (21 tournaments, 104 matches; 70 points, 14 tries)
- Werner Kok (48 tournaments, 244 matches; 530 points, 106 tries)
- JC Pretorius (eight tournaments, 43 matches; 80 points; 16 tries)
- Branco du Preez (72 tournaments, 365 matches; 1310 points, 94 tries, 417 conversions, one penalty, one drop goal)
- Selvyn Davids (17 tournaments, 85 matches; 336 points, 35 tries, 79 conversions, one penalty goal)
- Justin Geduld (49 tournaments, 255 matches; 1025 points, 110 tries, 236 conversions, one penalty goal)
- Cecil Afrika (63 tournaments, 328 matches; 1445 points, 176 tries, 281 conversions, one penalty goal)
- Muller du Plessis (11 tournaments, 47 matches; 165 points, 33 tries)
- Stedman Gans (captain; 19 tournaments, 89 matches; 135 points, 27 tries)
- Sako Makata (6 tournaments, 25 matches; 10 points, two tries)
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