Blitzboks aim to defend Cape Town title
Won opening event of Seven World Series
Tipped to end run of second-placings
When Ben Ryan talks about rugby sevens, it pays to listen.
And when the all-conquering coach predicts his former team Fiji’s run at the top might be coming to an end, then take note.
“South Africa have been the bridesmaids in so many competitions in the last couple of years, and I think it’s their time.”
They proved to be prophetic words – the Blitzboks beat Dubai titleholder Fiji 26-14 in the final to make the perfect start to their 2016-17 campaign.
This weekend’s Cape Town Sevens, where this time South Africa will be the defending champion, provides another opportunity for the home side to prove Ryan right again.
South Africa’s only world series title came in 2009, but in the past five years it has twice been runner-up to Fiji and twice to New Zealand.
New captain Philip Snyman is hoping to lead the Blitzboks to a fourth successive victory in their national sevens tournament.
In its first outing since having to settle for a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, his side won all three group games in Dubai then thrashed New Zealand 40-0 in the quarterfinals and crushed Wales 36-5 in the semis.
Speedster Seabelo Senatla continued the form that has made him the series’ top try scorer for the past two seasons, crossing the line 11 times in six matches and making 72 clean breaks.
“It’s such a pleasure to win in Dubai, it almost felt like a home tournament with all the South African support we got,” Snyman told CNN.
“We’ve put Rio behind us, but it is kind of sweet after Rio. We’re focusing on the world series and this was the right direction, so we can take some confidence into our home tournament.
“But you have to start all over again – you can’t just pitch up and think the home crowd is going to do their part. We need to work on a few things we can still improve on.”
Popularity on the rise
Last season, a feature of the world series was the number of 15-a-side internationals trying out sevens in a bid to win a trip to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Most failed to make the cut, including Springboks star Bryan Habana – who holds the joint record for tries scored at the Rugby World Cup, and is second on the all-time international list.
“My respect for sevens and for the individuals involved grew astronomically, given the way they train, the time they put in to being able to develop the game,” Habana told CNN of his second spell with the Blitzboks.
“To see how much more professional it has become was really fantastic.”
Playing in the shortened format for the first time since 2004, he missed Cape Town but took time off from his French club Toulon to go to the Las Vegas and Vancouver tournaments.
“I think sevens is just so much different to the 15-man game … so much can happen within a 14-minute period. I think the popularity of it really has grown,” the 33-year-old says.
“In South Africa we had the Cape Town tournament that was the first one last year where we had one definitely sold-out day and the other one almost at 95% capacity.
“So it definitely has grown and hopefully it’s not only now become a place for players to go on and become international 15s players, but it really and truly has become a full-time professional sport.”