Springbok Sevens chase unique triple crown
The Springbok Sevens team head into the weekend’s Wellington Sevens in New Zealand looking for a third successive tournament title in what would be a first for the South Africans.
The last time any team could win three consecutive tournaments on the HSBC Sevens World Series, was in 2010 when Samoa took the honours in the USA, Australia and Hong Kong.
Thanks to their recent Cup victories in Las Vegas and Port Elizabeth, South Africa currently enjoys a slender one point lead over HSBC Sevens World Series champions New Zealand at the top of the standings.
A much sought after win in Wellington will be the Springbok Sevens’ third Cup victory of this season, equaling their achievement from the 2012/13 season.
South Africa’s last Cup success in New Zealand was 12 years ago, and on Friday the Springbok Sevens will have to navigate a strong pool consisting of Wales, Portugal and defending tournament champions England, before they can turn their attention to the knockout stages.
After securing fourth place at the season opening Gold Coast tournament in Australia, the Springbok Sevens struck a rich vein of form which saw them finish runners-up in Dubai before their successive wins in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas.
On Wednesday however, SA Sevens coach Neil Powell and captain Kyle Brown both cautioned against the dangers of complacency in the New Zealand capital, where the hosts and the likes of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will no doubt enjoy huge crowd support.
Powell, in his first season as head coach of the Springbok Sevens, said the team has worked hard in training in preparation for another tough tournament.
“Although we are thankful for the Cup win in Vegas, we will not get carried away or lose focus,” said Powell. “We managed to achieve all our goals (in Las Vegas), but that event is now behind us and we have to be ready from the first whistle in Wellington.”
The USA tournament, according to Powell, was an extremely physical affair and the team was therefore grateful for the extra week’s rest, which also gave injury replacements Jamba Ulengo and Kwagga Smith enough time to hook up with the squad in New Zealand.
“We used the extra week as a recovery period and then made sure we hit the deck hard on the training field after arriving in Wellington. Jamba and Kwagga have slotted in well since joining us and squad is forward to the challenge,” said Powell.
Powell’s caution was echoed by his captain.
“This weekend it’s all about consistency and for the guys to be humbled and grounded,” explained Brown during the annual street parade in Wellington on Wednesday. “We are not yet halfway through the season and the end hasn’t been written so we know we still have a lot of work to do, which continues here in Wellington.”
Brown and his teammates are also well aware of how tough it will be to win on New Zealand soil: “We know it is a very difficult tournament and obviously we have not won here since 2002, so we are trying to put more emphasis on it.
“We know for any side to win it will be tough, and we have a tough day one with matches against Wales against which is always a tough game, Portugal and ending up with England.
“But just like at any other tournament we will focus on our first match first, against Wales, and that will be a good knockout but if we can come unscathed out of the pool, who knows?”
So far this season, the Springbok Sevens have built their game around brilliant defence – they conceded only 14 points en route to victory on the narrow field at the Sam Boyd Stadium in Vegas. It comes as no surprise, then, that Brown believes defence will win the tournament in Wellington.
“It will be different for all the teams this weekend, moving from the narrow pitch in Vegas to the wider one here in Wellington. There will be more emphasis on defence and teams will also have to be smarter in attack, but we are looking forward to it,” said Brown.
“We always talk about how you can get by with solid attack alone on day one but this tournament will be won by defence and we will keep working hard on that and pushing that culture to make sure we stay solid enough to hopefully win another title.”
Kenya, coached by former Springbok Sevens coach Paul Treu, was drawn in a tough pool which consists of powerful Samoa, Australia and Tonga.
The Springbok Sevens’ Pool A fixtures on Friday (SA times, live on SS):
The Springbok Sevens squad for Wellington (with number of World Series tournaments in brackets):
Kyle Brown (captain, 37), Chris Dry (32), Philip Snyman (19), Frankie Horne (54), Kwagga Smith (1), Werner Kok (4), Branco du Preez (27), Stephan Dippenaar (17), Justin Geduld (8), Cecil Afrika (28), Sampie Mastriet (6), Jamba Ulengo (8)
The current HSBC Sevens World Series Standings:
1. South Africa 78
2. New Zealand 77
3. Fiji 56
4. England 53
5. Samoa 47
The pool draw for Round 5 in Wellington:
Group A – South Africa, England, Wales, Portugal
Group B – New Zealand, France, Fiji, Spain
Group C – Canada, Argentina, Scotland, USA
Group D – Samoa, Australia, Kenya, Tonga