The Blitzbok rugby sevens side have contested all nine semi-finals of the 2017-18 HSBC Sevens Series, the only side to do so – and coach Neil Powell is looking for more of the same in Paris this weekend.
The 2017-18 season comes to a close at the HSBC Paris Sevens – the final of 10 tournaments in the series – at the Stade Jean Bouin on Saturday.
‘We have standards which we are proud of, and it is up to us to make sure we maintain it this weekend,’ said Powell. ‘Our aims for this weekend are clear – we want to leave nothing out there, bring the energy, keep the focus and trust the process.
‘We’re also proud of our consistency. It was great to reach nine semi-finals out of nine, but this is the final hurdle for us. We need to go out and make it happen though, no one is going to do it for us.’
Powell often urges his troops to play with a smile on their faces and their performances this season have done same to their ever-growing fan base. Those smiles will be even broader if the Blitzboks manage to defend their Paris title and retain the World Series crown.
The South Africans trail Fiji by seven points and can still win the series if they are victorious in Paris and the Fijians fail to reach the semi-finals. That mission for the Blitzboks starts in Pool B against Scotland, followed by matches against Russia and Canada.
‘It’s a tough pool and we will have to play well to make it to the quarter-finals,’ said Powell.
‘Knowing the Scottish and their character, they will be coming for us. They did not play well in London, so they will be determined to improve on that showing. Russia play good basic rugby and beat Scotland last weekend.
‘The last one against Canada will be very physical. They are capable of beating any of the teams on the circuit as they have shown in the past.’
Wing Siviwe Soyizwapi echoed Powell’s words: ‘Management did well to help us recover and we’re keen to get going. Last weekend, we showed good courage, commitment and endeavour, especially on day two.
‘We need to keep that mindset and make sure we keep on giving it our all. If so, we will finish each match with that smile on our face that the coach talks about. Paris is an inspiration city, now it is time for us to show some inspiration.’
However, the Blitzboks suffered a late injury setback when Stedman Gans broke his hand in training and had to be replaced in the match-day squad.
Ironically, Gans travelled from South Africa as the reserve player and replaced Cecil Afrika on day two of the HSBC London Sevens. This replacement was made official for the Paris event, with Mfundo Ndhlovu joining the Blitzboks as the 13th player.
With Gans ruled out, Ndhlovu will be part of the 12-man squad. Rhyno Smith, who made his sole appearance for the Blitzboks in Hong Kong this year, will join the squad as the official reserve.
‘Rhyno has been with us the last six months and has developed very nicely and will fit in well if he is called upon,’ said Powell.
‘Sadly, Stedman is missing out as he did well in London. But Mfundo is one of the most exciting players in the squad and he will also be keen to grab this opportunity.’
SA playing schedule – Saturday
v Scotland 10:06am
v Russia 1:02pm
v Canada 6:30pm
The top five teams on World Series log:
1. Fiji 167
2. South Africa 160
3. New Zealand 133
4. Australia 118
5. USA 105
The HSBC Paris Sevens pools are:
Pool A: Fiji, New Zealand, Kenya, Samoa
Pool B: South Africa, Canada, Russia, Scotland
Pool C: Ireland, Australia, Wales, Spain
Pool D: England, USA, Argentina, France
Official sevens logo, by Aude Alcover/Icon Sport via Getty Images