The Springbok Sevens are very aware of the threat posed by their three pool opponents for this weekend’s Las Vegas Sevens, which kicks off early on Saturday morning (SA time). The South Africans will be looking to bounce back to winning ways after coming unstuck in their last two knock-out matches at the Sydney Sevens in Australia, where they finished in fourth place despite injuries to several squad members. Las Vegas has been a happy hunting ground for the Springbok Sevens recently, with the team winning the USA title no fewer than three times in the past five years.
However, for this edition, the Springbok Sevens find themselves in a tough pool consisting of hosts, USA, the strong and physical Canada and tenacious Wales. The first two teams on the log qualify for the Cup quarter-finals after the teams have played three round-robin matches. South Africa currently share a three-way tie at top of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings with Fiji and New Zealand, all of whom are on 69 points after four tournaments.
For their Las Vegas mission, the South Africans have been boosted by the return of several fit-again stalwarts. Skipper Kyle Brown, record SA points’ scorer Cecil Afrika, Branco Du Preez and Justin Geduld have all recovered from their respective niggles and are set to return to action at the popular USA event. Du Preez last played for the Springboks Sevens at the London Sevens in May last year, while Brown and Africa last saw action in Cape Town in December.
Springbok World Cup winner Bryan Habana and Bok team-mate Ryan Kankowski are also part of a 13-man squad for the two North American tournaments. The inaugural Vancouver Sevens takes place next weekend, on 13 and 14 March. Apart from the strong North American threat in the pool stages, Neil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, added that attention to discipline will be a key focus area for them in Las Vegas.
Powell says: ‘Intensity and discipline are two of the areas that we basically had a look at and said it is important, especially in the knockout stages. It cost us some tournaments and some games in the past. Our focus going into the knockout stages is be to be more disciplined and trying not to give away cards in the knock-out stages, because it will cost you.’ Returning skipper Brown, who was last in action at the Cape Town Sevens, said it was a wonderful feeling to be back in the mix. Brown says: ‘A couple of weeks ago the guys were in Wellington and Sydney and they played some unbelievable rugby. It’s such a privilege to be part of this team again and hopefully we will be able to maintain the momentum here in Vegas. The USA will be bursting with pride playing at home in front of their own fans. They always make it something special when they play here, with fighter jets flying over and then adding the emotion of their anthem. As a player, it’s nice to be part of such a fixture and you know that as a team you will have to be incredibly strong and focussed.’
The Las Vegas action kicks off on Saturday morning (SA time), with the Springbok Sevens facing Canada at 02:35, followed by Wales at 05:58. They play their last group match, against the USA, at 00:35 on Sunday morning, with the quarter-final matches to follow thereafter.
Photo credit: Martin Seras Lima