Why the Blitzboks need to hit their straps early
Cape Town - Blitzbok veteran Branco du Preez says he and his teammates will not be looking past their first two opponents but the reality is that the home team know that what comes after that has upped the ante for them in the opening rounds of the Cape Town Sevens.
The Blitzboks start off their challenge in the second round of the World Sevens Series against Zimbabwe and Samoa and it is customary for the bigger teams to limber up a bit on the first day and get themselves into their rhythm, according to the SuperSport.com website.
However, with the day ending for the Blitzboks with a clash with tournament champions and winners of the series opener in Dubai last week, New Zealand, there is extra reason now to be sharp from the off.
They need to build on what they started to put together towards the end of the first leg in Dubai against the first two opponents so that they can be in a confident mood when they clash with the All Blacks.
Should they do that, then opportunity knocks for the Boks, and playing the Kiwis on the first day may turn out to be a good thing for them.
Although they came away with morale boosting victory last week, New Zealand had to dig deep for their win in the desert.
They were down to just nine fit players by the time they reached the final against the USA, and captain Scott Curry is one of those players who has had to fly home.
Reinforcements have been called for, but All Black Sevens coach Clark Laidlaw didn’t appear confident about their chances of winning in South Africa when they left Dubai.
"We're going to have to recover hard," Laidlaw told New Zealand media outlets.
"We're actually really short of players, I'm not entirely sure if we're going to have a team for next week, so we'll work out what to do about that in the next 48 hours and try and get some guys across to South Africa.
"We'll dust ourselves off, we'll just take the week to really recover well and build back up towards next Saturday.”
Next Saturday is nearly upon them and it would be understandable if the Kiwis took some time to get going and back into their stride. They may well be vulnerable on the first day, and the Blitzboks will be putting a lot of effort into making the most of what they’ll see as a great opportunity to make the statement that will galvanise their challenge on the deciding day of the tournament.
“Whey you get opportunities to be tested early it does help big time with the momentum going into the second day,” agreed Bok flyer Siviwe Soyizwape.
“It is important that we do well against Zimbabwe and Samoa so that we can be confident going into the game against New Zealand. It does help that we played both teams in Dubai, so we have some idea on how they play. For us it will be a case of focusing more on ourselves and getting that momentum that we need to take into the big games.”
On a personal level Soyizwape, who is effectively the replacement for try scoring genius Seabelo Senatla, who is now concentrating on conventional rugby, believes his biggest work-on is his work-rate.
“I want to get more involved in the game, be around the ball more. I know our attack can be a lot better as a team. That is something we are working hard on this week.”
Du Preez believes that making an early statement will be important, and that is why the initial focus is completely on the challenges posed by Samoa and Zimbabwe.
“We respect all teams and will not be looking past our first two opponents. We want to make a statement this weekend and that will start in the first game on Saturday,” said Du Preez.
The Blitzbok playmaker agreed with the theme from teammates earlier in the week that New Zealand had provided a good example of what is needed this weekend.
“They (New Zealand) are playing a very simple game plan and limit their mistakes. They are also very patient on attacking only strike when they see the defence is stretching,” he said.
According to former World Sevens Player of the Year, Werner Kok, the big focus in the early rounds for the Blitzboks will be for them to get their team-work going, something that he believes was lacking in Dubai.
“It felt like we played for ourselves and not the team,” said Kok of the early stages of the Dubai tournament.
However, he was encouraged by what he felt was an indication that the plan was starting to come together later in the tournament, with the Blitzboks easily beating Scotland and then impressing before losing late against Fiji in the race for the consolation prizes.
“We lacked a team effort, but once we sorted that out and found the team structure again, things went well, especially in the matches against Scotland and Fiji. So we need to start off that base here in Cape Town.”