South Africa coach Neil Powell has urged for caution ahead of their World Rugby Sevens Series opener this weekend as his side go in search of a third successive title in the UAE.
The Blitzboks are reigning Sevens Series champions and defending champions in Dubai – usurping Fiji of both accolades in 2017.
And despite having a group of players brimming with talent and oozing confidence, it’s still the fear of the unknown that has Powell slightly nervous ahead of the opening tournament.
“All the teams will be a threat,” said Powell at the Dubai Sevens press conference at the Crowne Plaza in Festival City. “Fiji, New Zealand, America, Australia, England can do it on their day. That’s the beauty of sevens.
“There are no easy games out there anymore. It’s going to be difficult and hopefully it’s a challenge we are up for.
“We need to focus on the outcome. It’s going to put pressure on us otherwise. So we need to focus on what we have control over.
“We don’t focus on trying to make it three in a row. We focus on what has been successful for us in the past and we’ll keep working like that to make sure the focus is there.”
After using 28 players during the 2017/18 campaign, the Windhoek native has built impressive squad depth to cover key positions ahead of the start of the ten-round season.
The experience comes in the form of captain Philip Snyman (65 tournaments) and Branco du Preez (61), both of whom missed out the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July‚ where South Africa claimed bronze.
The side also includes the sparkling talents of Werner Kok, Rosko Specman and Kyle Brown, players who can often be the tipping point between the Boks winning and losing.
And with players of this calibre at his disposal, Powell has experience and class to help their drive for a sixth title in Dubai.
“I’m happy with the balance. I’m happy we have some senior guys to add experience and give some guidance,” he said.
“We will look to those senior guys to make their own decisions on the field in those crunch games where one decision can be the difference between winning and losing.
“You need guys like Kyle and Phillips, who has played over 60 tournaments, to be on the field to help the guys be calm in those pressure situations.”
With Seabelo Senatla, Dylan Sage, Tim Agaba and Ruhan Nel having made the switch to fifteens rugby, Powell has ensured that his side remain a competitive force by giving newcomers good opportunities and blending in experience to add steel in those crunch encounters.
However, for all their class, the Blitzboks have shown they are more than capable of managing without star players, and while the likes of Senatla will be sorely missed, there are no gaping holes in the squad.
“We’ve planned for it. When we took that young side to Hong Kong last season, people were saying, ‘what are you doing, you still need to need the world series.’ We knew we’d lose players to fifteens and we needed to build a bigger base to select from,” he said.
“I’m happy how those guys put up their hands in Hong Kong last year and showed they can play at that level. Senior guys are great, but you need young inexperienced guys who can bring that energy.”
The Blitzboks will take on Zimbabwe, Samoa and Argentina in Pool A on Friday.
Joe Schmidt has announced he will retire from coaching after the 2019 World Cup and Andy Farrell will succeed him as Ireland boss.
New Zealander Schmidt had been regarded as a future All Blacks coach, but he has announced that he will finish coaching following next autumn’s tournament in Japan.
“I have decided to finish coaching and will prioritise family commitments after the Rugby World Cup in 2019,” Schmidt told the official Irish Rugby Football Union website.
“I feel that Irish rugby is in good hands. The management and players have been incredible to work with and the tremendous support we have had, particularly at home in the Aviva, but wherever we have travelled, has been uplifting.”
Schmidt, 53, was appointed in 2013 after three years in charge of Leinster and has overseen the most successful period in Ireland’s history.
Ireland have won three Six Nations titles under Schmidt, including a Grand Slam in 2018, and risen to the number two spot in the world rankings.
They have beaten all three southern hemisphere super-powers with a first win on South African soil in 2016 and a series win in Australia in 2018.
Ireland recorded a first win over world champions New Zealand in Chicago in 2016, a triumph which they repeated in Dublin nine days ago.
“Thank you to the IRFU for their support and patience and thanks also to so many people who have adopted my family and me, making us feel part of the community here in Ireland,” said Schmidt, who was named 2018 world rugby coach of the year on Sunday.
“There are some inspiring challenges over the next 11 months so there’s plenty of motivation for me to continue working hard, alongside the other management staff, so that the team can be as competitive as possible.”
Farrell, who was capped as a player by England in both union and league codes, is considered one of the best defence coaches in world rugby.
The 43-year-old joined Ireland in 2016 after spells with England and English Premiership side Saracens, and was part of the coaching set-up on the last two British and Irish Lions tours under Warren Gatland.
“It is a privilege to be considered for such a prestigious role,” Farrell said.
“I have learned a lot from Joe over the past few seasons and I will continue to learn from him over the next year as the coaching group and players focus on competing in two huge tournaments in 2019.”
Johnny Sexton has been crowned World Rugby Player of the Year on a night of sweeping success for Ireland.
Joe Schmidt scooped the coach of the year award, with Ireland named team of the year in a triple win for the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam winners at the World Rugby Awards.
British and Irish Lions fly-half Sexton has become the first northern hemisphere winner of World Rugby’s top accolade since France’s Thierry Dusautoir in 2011.
The 33-year-old is just the second Irishman to land the gong, following in the footsteps of former Ireland hooker Keith Wood, in 2001.
“It’s been an incredible year for Irish rugby, to win everything we could, really,” Sexton told Press Association Sport.
“It’s been very special, and a few of us have ended up here tonight.
“There are areas we’ve definitely highlighted to improve, which will be important in World Cup year.
“Teams try to peak for World Cup years. People ask have we peaked too soon? Well we haven’t peaked, so we’re just getting better and hopefully we can continue to do that.
“You have to improve ahead of the general curve. We know everyone else is going to get better.
“We’ll be going into a lot of games now as favourites after what’s happened this year, so that will be a challenge for us.
“We’ve got to deal with being favourites and I’m sure we can do that.”
A speechless Johnny Sexton gets a helping hand from Rory Best as he receives the World Rugby Men's 15s Player of the Year 2018 Award in Association with Mastercard #WorldRugbyAwards pic.twitter.com/yveN4gROHh— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) November 25, 2018
Sexton’s stunning drop-goal on the 41st phase of the final play secured Ireland a 15-13 win over France in Paris, as Schmidt’s men set the ball rolling on just their third-ever Grand Slam.
The lynchpin playmaker also guided Leinster to the PRO14-Champions Cup double, before starring when Ireland toppled back-to-back world champions New Zealand 16-9 in Dublin earlier this month.
Kiwi boss Schmidt has guided Ireland from eighth to second in the world rankings in five years at the Test helm.
That rise has proved as measured as it has rapid, and has earned the taskmaster boss the coach of the year prize.
South Africa’s Aphiwe Dyantyi pipped Ireland’s Jordan Larmour to the Breakthrough Player of the Year award.
France’s Jessy Tremouliere is World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year, with New Zealand’s Michaela Blyde claiming the Women’s Sevens award.