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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Blitzboks must stay cool in Cape Town Sevens spotlight

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Cape Town — Can you believe that the Springbok Sevens have won their home tournament just four times, compared to 10 titles in Dubai?

It is a strange anomaly that the Blitzboks will have to contend with yet again in this weekend’s Cape Town Sevens.

The South Africans pulled off their fourth consecutive Dubai Sevens triumph last week with a sensational comeback from a first-game defeat to Great Britain to beat Kenya, Australia, Samoa, New Zealand and Ireland.

That they were even competitive in the UAE is testament to the immediate impact that has been made by new coach Sandile Ngcobo, who faced a daunting task in taking over from long-serving mentor Neil Powell.

It would have been easy to feel that Ngcobo — who is still young enough to play at the age of 33, as injuries resulted in him going through the sevens coaching ranks until he eventually graduated into the Blitzboks hot seat — would need some leeway to find his feet in the top job.

That may have been the expectation after the South Africans crashed out of the Hong Kong Sevens last month, where they lost four out of five games.

It is also a new-look squad, with youngsters such as Shilton van Wyk and Ricardo Duarttee starring in Dubai.

But now the Blitzboks fans will almost expect their team to contend for the trophy once more at the Cape Town Stadium, despite the hosts having only done the Dubai-SA double twice – in 2008 and 2014.

Captain Siviwe Soyizwapi has been around the block, and experienced the highs and lows over the last seven years or so. He also celebrated his 30th birthday on Wednesday, and knows that the heat will be on when they run out for their opener against Canada tonight at 8.03pm.

“We’ve got newer guys in the squad, guys that haven’t played in Cape Town, and they don’t know what the stadium can be like, and how the fans and supporters can be,” Soyizwapi said.

“However, as professionals, you understand that you are playing at a high level, and there’s a lot of expectation – especially from supporters that sell out stadiums.

“In our squad, there are a lot of players who have been in that situation, so calming them and making sure that the main thing stays the main thing… That’s why we have such a balanced squad: it’s great as it helps us a lot, for the older heads to bring calmness to the younger heads.”

Ngcobo won’t be able to call on some of those “older heads” due to injury, such as Selvyn Davids, Dewald Human and Rodney Brown, but fresh faces like Van Wyk and Duarttee proved that they can shine in the spotlight in Dubai.

But playing in front of your home crowd brings different pressures, with the usually jovial Ngcobo flat-batting a question this week about how the Blitzboks will handle the hype with a two-second answer: “We will focus on ourselves and our processes.”

It doesn’t help that sevens giants Fiji loom in their second Pool A fixture tomorrow at 11.19am, with France at 5pm ahead of the Cup quarter-finals on Saturday night.

It’s going to be a thrilling tournament, but perhaps the Blitzboks would do well to heed the advice of their coach for the Cape Town Sevens, when he explained the reason for their turnaround in Dubai last week.

“I think just doing the little things right and using opportunities (resulted in their success). Sevens is a game of opportunities, and we’ve created those opportunities and didn’t really finish them off (in Hong Kong).

“So, we’re working hard to make sure we execute thoroughly, and defensively, we keep teams out.”

Blitzboks Squad

Ryan Oosthuizen, Impi Visser, Zain Davids, James Murphy, JC Pretorius, Masande Mtshali, Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain), Branco du Preez, Darren Adonis, Shilton van Wyk, Dalvon Blood, Muller du Plessis, Ricardo Duarttee.

Blitzboks Pool A Fixtures

Friday: Canada 8.03pm

Saturday: Fiji 11.19am, France 5pm

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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