And despite having the menacing figure of Sonny Bill Williams to get past in the pool stage, the Blitzbokke, who arrived in Wellington late on Sunday night South African time, are confident that they can win their first title there since 2002 on Saturday and Sunday.
They don’t have the best of records in New Zealand, having won the World Series event just once, when coach Neil Powell was still a player and former mentor Paul Treu was the captain.
The Blitzbokke have improved over the last two years, losing in the Cup final in 2014 and semi-final last year. But they won’t have regular captain Kyle Brown and talisman Cecil Afrika available in Wellington and next weekend in Sydney due to shoulder and hamstring injuries respectively.
“After almost 24 hours of travelling, the guys are really in good spirits and there’s a good vibe in the team. So we are really looking forward to (the tournament). There is a rich rugby culture in New Zealand, so we are looking forward to spending the week in Wellington,” stand-in skipper Philip Snyman said from Wellington on Monday.
“In the past, we’ve struggled in New Zealand, but we want to put that behind us and only focus on the next thing, and that’s the training session tomorrow morning – just to get the jet lag out of the systems and carry on from there.”
The first hurdle that the Blitzbokke will have to overcome is getting through Pool A, where hosts New Zealand loom large in the final match of the group.
The Kiwis named their 12-man squad on Monday and roped in some big guns in Sonny Bill, as well as other Super Rugby players such as loose forward Ardie Savea (brother of All Blacks powerhouse wing Julian), scrumhalf Augustine Pulu and wing Ben Lam, as well as new kids on the block, the Ioane brothers Akira and Rieko.
Combined with experienced heads such as captain Tim Mikkelson and Kurt Baker, the New Zealanders will be difficult to stop on home soil as they attempt to move up the World Series standings, where they are sixth on 25 points. South Africa are joint top with Fiji on 35.
Juan de Jongh, who played his only Sevens tournament in Wellington in 2008 before rejoining the squad this season, stated that the Blitzbokke are not worrying about how to stop Sonny Bill, but recognise the threat that New Zealand pose.
“I’ve been privileged to play against him in the 15-man code, but it’s a very different game in sevens. We aren’t focusing on who’s in the teams – we will look at that on day one in Wellington. We are focusing on Scotland at the moment, which is our first pool game,” De Jongh told Independent Media before departing for Wellington.
“But it is going to be a big game (against New Zealand), it could be the decider in determining what’s going to happen the next day.”
Pool A: South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland, Russia
Pool B: Argentina, Fiji, Wales, Japan
Pool C: France, USA, England, Samoa
Pool D: Kenya, Australia, Canada, Portugal
Blitzbokke Pool A Fixtures (SA Times)
Saturday, January 30
12.42am: Scotland, 3.44am: Russia, 7.30am: New Zealand.
Original source: Blitzbokke not worried about Sonny Bill