Paul Delport prepares to ‘unleash the beast’ with Imbokodo at Rugby World Cup Sevens

Paul Delport prepares to ‘unleash the beast’ with Imbokodo at Rugby World Cup Sevens
Sizophila Solontsi of the Springbok women on the attack during the second Test against the Kenya Lionesses at Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on 16 August 2021. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

The straight knockout format of the Rugby World Cup Sevens is ruthless, but it presents an opportunity for surprises.

The Bok women’s sevens team has no nationally contracted players and therefore has had much less time to prepare for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Sevens this weekend compared with many of their opponents.

Consequently, head coach Paul Delport’s game plan going into the global showpiece is simple.

“The great part about this group is that they’re really phenomenal rugby players. What we’ve needed to understand as a coaching staff is to play to the team’s strengths. What we’ve said is, ‘Let’s just unleash the beast and see how they go’,” said Delport.

“We started camp last Thursday. We spent a bit of time with Ireland, USA and France – who were at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport with us – they had full-time programmes, they were training full-time for three months before they came here. [Whereas] we trained together for 10 days.”

The Bok women have a tough task in their opening encounter on Friday night as they take on World Series runners-up France.

“France are a fantastic team but we’ve done our analysis and we’ve got a decent plan. It’s just up to us now to go and execute,” said Delport.

Coach Paul Delport at a Bok women training session in Cape Town on 6 September 2022. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

“All of us have chatted about it through the week – players, management, coaching staff, everybody wants to play in a home World Cup and I really think this format kind of levels the playing field a bit. It gives the underdogs a bit more of a chance.”

RWC format

The RWC format works differently to World Series tournaments where there are group stages. Instead, both the men’s and women’s RWC tournaments will run in a knockout format.

With 24 nations to feature in the men’s draw, a “pre-round of 16” will take place to narrow the field. This will see teams compete in knockout matches to join the eight prequalified nations.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Imbokodo embrace underdog tag for Rugby World Cup Sevens

From that point on, both men’s and women’s draws will comprise 16 nations each, and will follow the same structure: round of 16 then quarterfinal, semifinal and championship final.

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Nations that are eliminated in the pre-round of 16, or round of 16, will be entered into “bowl” and “challenge” side-tournaments, respectively.

If Imbokodo beat France on Friday they will play either Fiji or Japan, depending on the result of that match.

No sugarcoating

Co-captain Sizophila Solontsi told Daily Maverick that despite all the excitement around the RWC Sevens, Imbokodo’s focus remains firmly on upsetting France.

“Friday is our only focus at the moment – not to sugarcoat it, we want to win that game. And we have every opportunity and we have the chance to win it. Everything is in our hands now to implement the coaches’ plans and our plans as a team,” said Solontsi.

“I’m very excited that there’s co-captains. The team is so strong that we felt like we deserve co-captains in the team, just to share the responsibility.”

“It also has a lot of strong leaders, a lot of strong characters that play both 15s and sevens. We have experience playing in front of a massive crowd. I’m grateful to be running out with these ladies.”

Playing to strengths

Because many of the Imbokodo stars play for the Springbok women’s 15s team too, Delport could not always select his strongest possible side for all the international tournaments this season.

“I got to select who I wanted for the Africa Women’s Sevens and the Toulouse tournament and then the plan was always to go with a more developmental squad to the Commonwealth Games and the Challenger series [in Chile],” he said. “It worked out quite nicely that everyone’s had an opportunity to play, and this is certainly our best squad that we’ve selected for the RWC.”

Read in Daily Maverick: “The sky’s the limit as pieces continue to fall in place for Bok women

“The way we’ve run this year, we haven’t had a consistent team, so anybody doing analysis against us is not really going to have a clear picture of what we are going to do and what our armoury of weapons is, so that’s going to be quite interesting.”

Delport confirmed his tournament group of 12 players on Wednesday, with Asisipho Plaatjies and Kirsten Eastes missing out this weekend.

Paul Delport and Sizophila Solontsi at the sevens team announcement in Pretoria on 25 April 2022. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

“We’ve tailored the way we play, we’re going to play to the strengths of our players, so I’m just really looking forward to them expressing themselves and playing the way they can play.”

“Barring one or two players, this is our absolute best squad that we have.” DM


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