Blitzboks need to find consistency in London as new players join the fold
The Sevens circuit moves to Twickenham in London this weekend after what was a disappointing weekend in Toulouse for the Blitzboks.
The Blitzboks will need to leave it all on the field this weekend as this season nears its culmination. London is the penultimate leg of the Sevens circuit and the final event – in Los Angeles – is just three months away.
After having won the first four tournaments, and accumulating maximum points, the Springboks Sevens team let an 18-point buffer between themselves and the next-best team, Argentina, slip as they now trail the South Americans by two points on the overall standings.
Surprisingly, despite leading the standings, Argentina has only won one of the seven Sevens circuit legs played so far – in Vancouver.
However, the Pumas’ consistency throughout this series has been their greatest strength – their worst performances being two fifth-place finishes, in Singapore and Toulouse.
On the contrary, the Blitzboks, despite having won four legs, have had up-and-down results, with their finish last weekend in Toulouse the worst thus far. They gained only five points after their ninth-place semifinal loss to Scotland.
Blitzboks coach Neil Powell described Toulouse as “the worst performance at a tournament in my career”.
“Soft moments and basic skills not executed well, rather than lack of effort, were holding us back,” he said.
“We had some areas that were really poor in Toulouse. Our kick-off receives was one of them and we lost three of the four restarts against Samoa, for example. That is giving the ball straight back to the opponents and at this level it is looking for trouble, especially when you do so at critical times in the game.”
Powell has committed to his side producing better performances and results in London.
“Those are small areas in the game that we need to improve on, but also areas that we know we can improve on. We worked on those, and the results will be better this weekend.”
There was salt rubbed into the Blitzboks’ Toulouse wound when the team suffered three injuries, forcing them to end the tournament with only 11 fit players. JC Pretorius, Tiaan Pretorius and Dalvon Blood are all back in South Africa. Powell and his technical team have called up fresh faces for the London leg.
Among those called up is 20-year-old former junior Springbok and current Lions flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse. He will make his Sevens debut this weekend, while there was also a call-up for the marginally more experienced Western Province wing Angelo Davids and a return to the Sevens fold after injury for Sako Makata.
Hendrickse’s surprise inclusion for London is mainly due to the Blitzboks’ extensive injury list in the pivotal playmaking position, according to Powell.
“We are really thin on the ground with flyhalves, with Justin Geduld, Selvyn Davids and Lubabalo Dobela unavailable, and we are grateful to the Emirates Lions for releasing him,” he said.
“Sako [Makata] also just missed out on travelling to France, while Angelo [Davids] was due to return to the Blitzboks before the Commonwealth Games and Rugby World Cup Sevens.”
Unlike Makata and Davids, Hendrikse has no professional experience playing Sevens rugby.
“I last played Sevens at school, so was surprised to get that request from coach Neil. What a great feeling this is, and I am still processing it,” Hendrikse said on Wednesday. “There are so many emotions, but nervous and excited are definitely two of them.”
Hendrikse has always had his sights set on the Springbok jersey, and although this is not quite the one he had imagined, he remains optimistic about representing his country.
“The main challenge for me is to adapt. But as I said, I love a challenge. So, I’m looking forward to spending the weekend with this squad. Doing so in the green and gold will just add that bit extra,” said the playmaker.
The Blitzboks have an early opportunity to exact revenge when they face Ireland in their second pool stage match on Saturday. The Springbok Sevens team lost to the eventual Toulouse Sevens runners-up in their first match last weekend.
Full focus will be on their first match of the weekend, however, as they take on table-topping Argentina early on Saturday.
“They are a difficult team to play against – they never surrender and they never give up,” said Powell.
“I believe that if we put down a good foundation in that first game, the guys will build on it and we will be successful. It is going to take a big effort, individually and as a team, to do that and deliver a more clinical performance than we showed last weekend.”
The Blitzboks then square up to their African neighbours, Kenya, in their last pool match, before the knockout stages start on Sunday. DM