The pursuit of Olympic glory has seen South Africa begin a trip into the unknown at the 2015 Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens as
untried Test stars start making their debuts.
The gala tournament at The Sevens from December 3-5 heralds both the commencement of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the final run towards the game’s inaugural outing at next summer’s Rio 2016 Games.
Many of the competing nations in Brazil are set to introduce 15-a-side superstars into their ranks, with New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams and the Springboks’ Bryan Habana among those set to debut at future World Series events.
The Blitzboks have called up Test duo Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh for the defence of their Dubai crown and coach Neil Powell admits he cannot predict how they will get on.
“It is important to understand that even though it is rugby, it is two different games at the end of the day,” the 37-year-old said at Tuesday’s pre-tournament press conference. “Guys still need to come in and prove themselves.
“We will use this World Series as a test to see whether they are capable of replacing the other guys.
“We think these players have the attributes to make it in the sevens game.
“But we still have to see whether they are good at sevens or not. There is a lot of space to work in and there is a structure and system you need to buy into.
“Speaking now, Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh have been in camp for the last few weeks and they have fitted in nicely into the structures and the culture off the field.
“We will have to see what they are capable of against the best teams and players in the world, sevens-wise.”
— Springbok Sevens (@Blitzboks) November 30, 2015
South Africa stormed to a dominant fourth triumph at The Sevens in 2014, dismantling Australia 33-7 in the final with the help of winger Seabelo Senatia’s try double.
Despite this success, they were pipped to the overall title by Fiji who won four of the nine 2014-15 legs.
Sevens is the national passion of the Pacific Islanders and coach Ben Ryan was fully aware of the pressure his squad are set to face in the next 12 months.
He said: “This year is incredibly important for us. We are not going to win or lose the Series or win or lose a medal in Rio because of what happens this weekend, but it has been a long build-up and we are feeling a little bit nervous.
“We have a strong side, with lots of competition.”
New Zealand are synonymous with rugby success and their grip on the sport is repeated in the women’s game, the Black Ferns claiming all three runnings of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series.
This desire to succeed was exemplified in Dubai last December as a late Sarah Goss try dethroned Antipodean rivals Australia.
— DESC PE Department (@DESCPE) November 30, 2015
“It’s part of the psyche,” said coach Sean Horan when asked about the nation’s winning mentality. “It has been going now for a long, long time.
“It is inbred in us whether you are a male or female born in this country that you embrace rugby.
“It is also the way the All Blacks jersey is not only held by us, but those overseas.
“Whether you are an All Black, an Under-20 or a Black Fern, you have the same responsibility.
“Young boys and young girl aspire to that legacy – it is like a coat of armour, really.”
— Dubai Rugby Sevens (@Dubai7s) December 1, 2015
Sevens rugby is set for a bumper year, the World Series expanding to 10 stops and becoming part of the Olympic movement.
World Rugby general manager, competitions, Philippe Bourdarias, hailed this development.
He said: “Dubai represents the start of an exciting journey for World Rugby as we get set for a massive season ahead.
“With the Series expanded to 10 iconic destinations around the globe as we continue the journey towards the Olympic Games in Rio 2016, we have the opportunity to reach and inspire new audiences and all teams look forward to showcasing our sport on the greatest stage of them all.”