Madiba Magic for Bl­itzbokke

SA Sevens will need to be sharp and fo­cused on open­ing day

Daily Dispatch - - Sport - CRAIG RAY

The Bl­itzboks will be sport­ing a new jersey to com­mem­o­rate Nel­son Man­dela’s life and legacy at the Cape Town Sevens this week­end‚ which is most fit­ting‚ as they could surely do with some Madiba Magic.

This is only the sec­ond leg of the 2018-19 HSBC World Sevens Se­ries but al­ready dis­tant alarm bells have rung for South Africa af­ter last week’s dis­ap­point­ing sixth place in Dubai.

When you con­sider that they went through the en­tire 2017-18 cam­paign with a worst show­ing of fourth‚ it was quite a drop for the reign­ing World Se­ries cham­pi­ons.

The per­for­mances in Dubai were in­con­sis­tent‚ which is not a word usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with a team that made 10 semi­fi­nals and four fi­nals last sea­son.

There is no sin­gu­lar rea­son for the Bl­itzboks’ poor start to the new cam­paign‚ but it is clear that los­ing so many stal­warts from the pre­vi­ous two ti­tle runs‚ is go­ing to take some time for re­overy.

Kwagga Smith‚ Dy­lan Sage‚ Tim Agaba and Ruhan Nel were the back­bone of the de­fence while record try-scorer Se­abelo Se­natla and record points-scorer Ce­cil Afrika‚ pro­vided the flair and in­ci­sion. Those are play­ers not eas­ily re­placed.

Al­though Impi Visser was the only debu­tant in Dubai‚ and there are none in Cape Town‚ the squad is still vastly in­ex­pe­ri­enced com­pared to pre­vi­ous sea­sons.

The other fac­tor is that the Bl­itzboks are now the most prized scalp in Sevens and ev­ery team lifts their game when they meet SA. That’s the hon­our and curse of be­ing con­sis­tently bril­liant for so long.

Neil Pow­ell’s team just have to get used to play­ing with a huge tar­get on their backs ev­ery time they take the field.

Cape Town is con­sid­ered the best stop on tour as voted by play­ers‚ and an­other sell­out crowd of 108‚000 over the two days are ex­pected.

SA have not won at home since the 2015-16 sea­son and they will have to be at their best to win the ti­tle they prize most again.

With a pool con­tain­ing the al­ways dan­ger­ous Samoa and Dubai win­ners New Zealand‚ SA will have to be sharp and fo­cused on day one.

The Bl­itzboks’ de­fence was un­usu­ally por­ous in Dubai and key play­maker Branco du Preez has urged his team­mates to im­prove that as­pect this week­end.

“We need to make bet­ter tack­les‚” said Du Preez‚ one of the re­main­ing old heads in the team. He has scored 1,175 points in 310 matches.

“New Zealand are play­ing a very ba­sic game plan and lim­ited their mis­takes. They are also very pa­tient on at­tack and only strike when they see the de­fence is stretch­ing. So we need to make sure we make dom­i­nant tack­les against them in or­der to throw them off their rhythm on at­tack.”

New Zealand coach Clark Laid­law has been forced to make whole­sale changes af­ter los­ing five play­ers in Dubai last week. Etene NanaiSe­turo‚ Trael Joass and Taylor Haugh joined the Ki­wis in Cape Town this week.

“Last week­end was quite test­ing with the in­juries but we’ve had three good play­ers join us who know how we want to play the game‚” said Laid­law.

“We spent a lot of last sea­son build­ing depth in our squad and we saw some play­ers re­ally step up in Dubai.

“Look­ing at this week­end‚ we’re here to win. We think we can play bet­ter and the group we’ve got here is ex­cited about get­ting back out there.”

The tour­na­ment kicks off at 10.15am when Canada take on Scot­land in Pool D. The Bl­itzboks open their ac­count against Samoa at 12.27pm.

GALLO IM­AGES/ASH­LEY VLOTMAN

TIME TO MAKE UP LOST GROUND: The Bl­itzboks squad which will com­pete in the Cape Town Sevens this week­end.Pic­ture:

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