On the face of it, there’s not much for the Blitzboks to play for in Paris this weekend.
They’ve already secured fourth spot on the standings, thus automatically qualifying for the 2020 Olympics, while Fiji and the USA are in a dog fight for the 2018/19 World Sevens Series title.
But there will be standards to maintain at the 10th and final event of the season, says coach Neil Powell, and to add to that, the team will have an opportunity to end on a positive note after finishing joint seventh in London last weekend.
And who better to make that step-up against than the team that knocked them out of Cup contention at Twickenham?
The Springbok Sevens unit go up against Wales, Kenya and Australia today, and while Powell said they aren’t underestimating their first two opponents, putting on a quality performance against the Australians – and getting a win – would be especially satisfying.
“Wales and Kenya are fighting for survival in the Series, so they will be coming with everything they have,” said Powell. “Wales are very good at the breakdown technically and can punish you if you’re not clinical. The Kenyans run hard and will be very physical, with lots of counter-rucking and we need to be ready for that.”
The Aussies beat the Blitzboks 29-22 in England in their play-off fixture after dominating a number of areas of play.
“It is a good opportunity for us to play them again, to see where we are as a team and if we learned from those errors made against them,” said Powell.
“It is all about our standards. We cannot improve on our fourth spot and we cannot go down to five. It reminds me a bit of two years ago, when we had the World Series won with one tournament to go. Back then, we did not perform that well results-wise so we are keen to change that this weekend.
“We did not have the best of weekends in London, and we would like to change that around here in Paris. The players are very keen to go out there and improve on that.”
Earlier this week, Powell said he was planning on experimenting with his squad at Stade Jean-Bouin, and during the week, the team also welcomed three replacements for the Paris finale. The coach made special mention of the energy the replacements brought into camp, while Cecil Afrika’s return after a year on the sidelines is a bonus.
Afrika – the Blitzboks’ top points scorer, Mfundo Ndhlovu and Dewald Human have come at the right time for the squad, Powell said. “Some of the guys have played in all nine tournaments to far, others six in a row and everyone is not necessarily on the same page mentally,” said Powell.
“The three new guys come to Paris with lots of energy, which is very valuable to the squad at this stage. Cecil has not played all season, Dewald last played in Sydney and Mfundo in Las Vegas, so they are all very keen to give it a go.”
“I want to give some of the guys who did not start a match yet, such as Sako (Makata), a chance to do so, while JC (Pretorius) is coming off an injury and could do with some game time. Also expect to see Muller (du Plessis) getting a run at centre,” said Powell, who added that this is not a hit and hope approach.
“It will be done without sacrificing any of our standards – we are going out there very proud to wear the jersey that means so much to all of us.”
Springbok Sevens squad: Ryan Oosthuizen, Sako Makata, Impi Visser, Mfundo Ndhlovu, Werner Kok, JC Pretorius, Branco du Preez, Dewald Human, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Muller du Plessis, Philip Snyman
Blitzboks’ schedule today (SA times): 11.44am v Wales; 3.10pm v Kenya; 6.5pm v Australia