South Africa aiming for third title in dubai
- The Blitzboks won in Dubai in 2006 and 2008; were runners-up to Fiji last year
- Coach Neil Powell says after the 4th-place finish in Round 1, he has added new faces and put key plans in place during training
November 20 2014; Dubai, UAE: South Africa, traditionally one of the strongest performers at the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, are eager to put the heartbreak of the 2013 final behind them, as they aim to go all the way in one of their favourite tournaments when the action kicks off at The Sevens Stadium in less than two weeks’ time.
The Blitzboks lost 17-29 to Fiji here in 2013, and have once again marked out the Islanders as the team to beat in this edition, following Fiji’s stunning winning performances in the Oceania Sevens and in Round 1 of the 2014-15 HSBC Sevens World Series at the Gold Coast.
The Springbok Sevens also finished second behind New Zealand in the overall World Series standings last season, and are looking to go one better this time around. Speaking about their goals, Coach Neil Powell said: “It is a big season for all the teams, and we realise that we can’t afford to look too far ahead. A lot of our focus last year was to get some consistency back, and that will be one of our major aims again this year. We are working hard on the basics, and I believe that if we can achieve our team goals, then the results will look after themselves.”
Just how high the South Africans are setting the bar can be gauged by their ‘disappointment’ with their fourth place finish at the Gold Coast. After defeating Wales, Kenya and American Samoa in Pool B, they trumped hosts Australia 12-10 in a memorable Cup quarter-final clash. However, the high of that win was tempered by a shock 12-28 loss to Samoa in the Semi-Finals and then a 0-19 drubbing at the hands of England in the play-off for third and fourth place.
Assessing their Gold Coast outing, Powell said: “It was a close affair and we had to work hard to beat Australia, but we were not pleased with our overall performance. We had some niggles going into the tournament, and some players joined us late because of provincial commitment, but that is no excuse for our below-par performances on Day 2. Our decision-making was off the mark, and we made a lot of handling errors. We have been working hard over the past few weeks at our training base in Stellenbosch, and have also added some new faces to our training squad, so I expect an improvement in Dubai.”
What has frustrated the South African players, fans and team-management is the spate of injuries and niggles suffered by their key players. That has prevented them from fielding full-strength sides consistently, and is a factor that could become critical if the nation is to stay strong in its quest to finish in the top four of the overall World Series table, and thereby qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Powell said: “Injuries are part of the game, a reality that every coach and his staff have to manage. I would just like to assure everybody that we are focusing on this aspect, and will have a very competitive squad in Dubai.”
South Africa are looking to win their third title in Dubai, following their successes here in 2006 and 2008. They have been drawn in Pool D, alongside Gold Coast Cup quarter-finalists Wales, Round 1 Shield winners Canada and the Bowl semi-finalists there, Portugal.
Hoping to see another strong performance from the Springbok Sevens, Tournament Director Jim Fitzsimons said: “South Africa is traditionally a strong rugby nation, and they’ve finished in the top four almost every year in Dubai. The quality they bring to the event is undeniable, and they enjoy some great support from the South African community here, who come out in droves to cheer on their heroes. We hope to see them displaying their flair and style once again this year.”
For all the information on the event and tickets, go to www.dubairugby7s.com.