On home turf, Blitzboks aim for first World Cup triumph
The elusive title is within South Africa’s grasp, though rampant New Zealand, Fiji and Australia will be tough to beat.
Players from 40 teams around the world – 24 men’s and 16 women’s – will gather in the Mother City to participate in Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022. The Blitzboks have never captured the crown but have an ideal opportunity to correct that on home ground this coming weekend.
The Blitzboks’ best finish was as runners-up in the 1997 edition of the event, and they finished third in 2018.
It will be the first time a sevens event will be held at Cape Town Stadium since the World Series tournament in 2019. The 2020 and 2021 World Series legs were cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s always difficult to pick out cut-and-dried favourites because of the nature of sevens. There is more space on the field, and one missed tackle can change the course of the match, or a campaign, especially in a game that is only 14 minutes long.
Historically, the Pacific Island nations have fared best at World Cups, with New Zealand’s men snatching the trophy in three of the seven editions of the global showpiece, including on successive occasions in 2013 and 2018.
The All Blacks Sevens come into the Rugby World Cup having built up solid form after a slow start to the season. In the second-last World Series event in London, the team captured a silver medal and then took bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
New Zealand followed up with an impressive unbeaten run in Los Angeles, where they conquered South Africa, Samoa and Fiji to take home the gold medal in the final World Series event of the 2021/22 season.
Fiji have the second most titles with two triumphs, both in Hong Kong (in 1997 and 2005). They have been consistent all season as they claimed podium finishes in the last five World Series tournaments, including two first places.
In full flow, the flying Fijians are almost impossible to stop. With a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal at the World Series, Fiji will be looking to finish their season with that elusive gold medal in Cape Town next week.
Australia have been on the periphery of dominant teams like Fiji, South Africa and New Zealand in recent years — even finishing behind the three sides at the Commonwealth Games this year.
Despite this, the side from Down Under claimed their first-ever World Series title this season with consistent showings, securing six podium finishes in the nine tournaments — more than any other side.
Surprisingly, the Australians won only one tournament all season, in London. They will be dark horses for the World Cup but have form and confidence heading to Cape Town.
Meanwhile, England (1993) and Wales (2009) have won the World Cup once each. However, both had a lacklustre World Series, securing only one podium finish between them.
Australia’s women’s side are hot favourites for the Rugby World Cup Sevens title, a victory that would seal a dominant year for them. They clinched the World Series trophy by winning a remarkable four out of the six legs, while finishing second (Toulouse) and third (Malaga) in the other two.
Their dominance continued in Birmingham when they took home the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, defeating a spirited Fiji 22-12 in the final.
If Australia finish first in Cape Town, they will tie with New Zealand with two World Cup Sevens trophies apiece.
Australia captured the inaugural title in 2009 in the UAE. In the next two showpiece events in 2013 and 2018, it was the Black Ferns who took the trophy home.
New Zealand only participated in the last two legs of the World Series – because of their country’s strict Covid-19 restrictions at the time – securing silver in Langford and gold in Toulouse. Like the men’s team, they won bronze at the Commonwealth Games.
The reigning world champions are more match-shy than the other top nations but are sure to put on a good showing, having built a reputation as the top sevens team in the world over the past few years.
Despite an inconsistent showing during the World Series, Fiji showed their championship credentials at the Commonwealth Games. They went on an unbeaten run and even sneaked past eventual winners Australia 19-12 in their group stage clash before running out of steam in the final.
Fiji have never made the final four in a Sevens Rugby World Cup but the side seems to be peaking at the right moment.
The Imbokodo, as the South African women’s team is affectionately known, finished in a respectable fourth place in the very first women’s Sevens Rugby World Cup.
However, things have not gone as swimmingly for them in World Cup tournaments since, with 13th place in 2013 in Moscow and 14th in 2018 in San Francisco.
As the host nation, Paul Delport and his charges will look to put up a brave fight in front of thousands of admiring supporters.
They have recently added Commonwealth Games captain Asisipho Plaatjies, Unathi Mali and Kirsten Eastes to the squad. Nadine Roos, who plays as fullback for the Springbok women’s side, will add attacking spark to the Imbokodo.
Building on success
Despite losing the World Series title by two points after a disappointing showing in the final tournament in Los Angeles, the Blitzboks go into the event with confidence.
The side took gold at the Commonwealth Games in an excellent tournament showing in Birmingham last month. They are expected to welcome back several stars – who missed out because of injury in Los Angeles – such as Selvyn Davids, Ronald Brown, Christie Grobbelaar and Mfundo Ndhlovu. The quartet were all part of the champion side in Birmingham. DM
The 24 teams competing in the men’s tournament:
South Africa, Argentina, England, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Scotland, USA, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Korea, Australia, Samoa, Tonga, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, Jamaica, Germany, Ireland, Portugal and Wales.
The 16 teams competing in the women’s tournament:
South Africa, Australia, France, New Zealand, USA, Madagascar, Japan, China, Fiji, Brazil, Colombia, Canada, England, Ireland, Poland and Spain.