Defending Dubai and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions South Africa chalked up three wins on the opening day of the new season, but Neil Powell and Werner Kok were far from happy with the beginning to their two trophy defences.
The two-time series champions laboured to a 19-10 victory in their Pool A opener against invitational side Uganda, before stepping up the pace as they conceded just five more points in their remaining two games – claiming a 46-5 victory against Kenya and beating Canada 28-0.
Despite not being satisfied with their start and claiming his side must “start all over again” today, coach Powell was delighted with the character his side showed.
“It’s a sign of a good team when they play badly and can still win,” said the 39-year- old, himself a former Blitzbokke player.
“It’s going to be tough tomorrow and one the guys need to be up for it.
“I was happy after the last game. We had a slow start against Uganda, very disappointed with that performance. Because the guys haven’t played together as maybe the 12 we have, there was a little bit of rustiness. But they stepped up the next two games.”
Powell had said there was no pressure on his side coming into the tournament, despite a dominant 2016/17 in which they won five of the eight tournaments, and finished second in the remaining three.
It is a huge year for sevens rugby, with the Rugby World Cup Sevens taking place in America next summer and the Commonwealth Games – another title the South Africans will be defending – in Australia in April.
Powell admitted it is always difficult to gauge how your own team and opponents will perform in the opening leg, so he was pleased to emerge from day one unscathed.
“It is difficult. You’ll never know until you get here,” he added.
“You might play some games back in South Africa but it’s not the quality of the teams here. These guys challenge you a bit more. We pride ourselves on defence and I think that was very disappointing against Uganda. But the guys showed character to come back.”
His words were echoed by Werner Kok, the Western Province winger who was part of that 2014 Commonwealth Games success, as well as being in the side that won bronze at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“It could have been better,” he said bluntly of the opening day.
“We still made a lot of mistakes, lots of opportunities we didn’t take and I think we’ll go home, look at the videos and see where we can get better.”
He did add that it was a good sign they played badly yet still opened up the season with three straight wins.
“It’s definitely good, as it doesn’t allow us to get complacent. The bad start against Uganda was actually a good thing. To put us back into basics and we realised it’s not going to happen by itself. The boys pulled together and we had two other good games.”
Australia took full advantage of a blip for defending HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series champions New Zealand to stage an early bid for a second crown by breezing to victory in Dubai.
Tim Walsh’s team saved the best for last at The Sevens Stadium Friday, whitewashing Canada, who finished third last season, 34-0 in the final.
The stadium was engulfed by a barrage of noise from an impressive fireworks display following victory as smoke billowed throughout the stands.
When it cleared, the Aussies were still standing, resplendent in their gold and green kit – and they will feel they the chances of regaining the title all-conquering New Zealand took off them in 2016/17 are bright after a vivid display.
They opened up with a 27-0 victory over Japan on Thursday, followed by 22-7 and 31-12 wins against England and Russia to top Pool B.
They beat England (29-12) again in the quarter-finals and Canada (25-7) in the last four yesterday, before dazzling in the final, with Evania Pelite grabbing a score on her way to the player of the tournament award.
Dominique Du Toit added a brace, while Sharni Williams, Emma Tonegato and Emilee Cherry topped the cake.
For 22-year- old star Pelite, victory in the Emirates was reward for all the hard work endured over the summer and in pre-season.
“It’s really great to come out here and get the first win of the series. We went away and worked really hard in pre-season so to come out and perform like that is a huge credit to us,” said the Brisbane native.
“We came out and wanted to focus on us. We came with a game-plan and we wanted to execute it and that’s what we did.”
Next up for the Aussies is their home tournament on the Gold Coast at the end of January.
And having suffered defeat at the hands of Canada in the Sydney semi-finals a year ago and beaten in the bronze medal match by New
Zealand, Pelite insists she and her colleagues will be fired up to perform on home soil, where a second victory would really enhance their chances of series success in a five-tournament season.
“It didn’t go as well as we wanted it to last season but we’re looking forward to going back home, putting the hard work in and hopefully do a repeat of tonight,” added Pelite, who won sevens gold with the green and gold last year in Rio.
“The girls definitely have the fire in their bellies at the moment. You can tell with the atmosphere in the changing room, the team camaraderie, it’s all gelling well.”
The Black Ferns, meanwhile, never finished below third last season, in fact bronze in Sydney was the only tournament in which they did not lift the main award as they celebrated five victories.
But a 14-12 to the USA in the last eight yesterday knocked them out of the running for the main title, Allan Bunting’s side eventually going on to finish fifth.
Australia coach Walsh admitted he was surprised by their exit and contemplated the fact they had not respected the tournament as much as they should have.
“I was surprised,” he said.
“They’ve been in incredible form. But the US are always physical. New Zealand, looking at it, lost it themselves. They had a few kicks
yesterday that went awry and then kicked away the ball a few times against the US, didn’t respect the ball and they (the US) took full advantage.”
Walsh labelled his own team’s performance “exceptional”.
“I thought the semi-final really put us in good stead and they really performed well there,” he added.
“Executed exactly what we were trying to do. Scoring that amount of points and the way we did it, we’re happy with how the tournament
went, it was a pretty exceptional performance, particularly Evania, I thought she was world-class.
“It gives the girls faith in what we’re doing. Such a long pre-season and hard work, to see it unfold instils belief in the programme.
“You need to get off to a good start because with five (tournaments this year) the season’s over before you know it. Every tournament, every game, really counts
Across the 2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, HSBC are exploring the anatomy of a Rugby Sevens player, some of the most impressive athletes in world sport, by examining the importance of Body, Mind and Soul.
Brian O’Driscoll put his rugby boots on for the first time since retirement to experience first-hand how Rugby Sevens players prepare themselves for the punishing physical challenge of a HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series Game.
The ‘Death Zone’, a title borrowed from a term climbers use to describe the altitude at which breathing is almost impossible and even the simplest of tasks become impossible to complete, is a session designed to force the players to make decisions and perform skills in game situations whilst under extreme fatigue.
The session is used by the England Sevens team to put their body under the extreme stress that it will experience during a game of Rugby Sevens.