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.
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