Throw in tropical storms that suspended training sessions, a strict tournament hotel bubble and having to wait until 24 hours before kick-off to know whether anyone in the squad delivered a positive COVID test, and for good measure, facing a new qualifier as your first opponent on the opening day, and it’s clear this isn’t your normal build-up to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series opener.
However, on Friday, when the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens kicks off, you will find new Springbok Sevens coach Sandile Ngcobo rushing towards those uncertainties, not hiding from it, with the Blitzboks squad following his lead as they embrace whatever challenges come their way.
“We have a slogan of ‘adapt and execute’ – it’s nothing new to the squad, in fact, we first used it when the pandemic was causing great uncertainty about tournaments and training programmes,” the 33-year-old coach explained.
“We are still applying that principle and here in Hong Kong, it proved handy as we were thrown some curve balls. We did not allow those to bother us, the team just adapted and I really believe they will execute at the tournament.”
Ngcobo’s belief comes from the experience in the squad. Seven squad members had tasted World Series success and all 13 were part of the wider squad that prepared for Commonwealth Games, where South Africa won the gold medal, earlier this year.
“We are just so happy to be out there again and that joy, coupled with doing the basics well, will help us a lot when we start against Uruguay. The aim is a simple one, we want to compete at the highest level and we want to compete hard,” said Ngcobo.
“As a coach, I am confident about the players that were selected and their abilities, so approach this tournament with a positive mindset. The beauty and reality of this game is that giants fall, and underdogs rise as every team can beat another on the day.
“We need to be very sharp from the start, Uruguay will come hard. So we need to be ready for that," Ngcobo said of the South American side that will debut in the World Series.
“The Great Britain side will also be an interesting opponent as they bring the flavours of the English, Welsh and Scottish teams, so it will be difficult to plan exactly what you expect them to do.
“With France, they love throwing the ball around, so if it is going to rain as predicted when we play them (on Saturday), one needs to adapt to that. But we are not looking at the opponents too much, rather at us executing the style we want to bring.”
The Blitzbok squad for the Hong Kong Sevens (with World Series stats)
Sako Makata - 16 tournaments, 60 points (12 tries)
Ryan Oosthuizen - 32 tournaments, 160 points (32 tries)
Impi Visser - 21 tournaments, 115 points (23 tries)
JC Pretorius - 20 tournaments, 225 points (45 tries)
Branco du Preez - 82 tournaments, 1434 points (100 tries, 464 conversions, 1 penalty goal, 1 drop goal)
Selvyn Davids - 27 tournaments, 564 points (69 tries, 108 conversions, 1 penalty goal)
Ronald Brown - 8 tournaments, 285 points (27 tries, 75 conversions)
Dewald Human - 10 tournaments, 211 points (17 tries, 63 conversions)
Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain) - 40 tournaments, 670 points (134 tries)
Mfundo Ndhlovu - 10 tournaments, 60 points (12 tries)
Christie Grobbelaar - 8 tournaments, 70 points (14 tries)
Shilton van Wyk - 4 tournaments, 30 points (6 tries)
Darren Adonis - 7 tournaments, 54 points (10 tries, 2 conversions)
Selected stats at start of 2022/23 World Series
1462 Cecil Afrika
1434 Branco du Preez
230 Seabelo Senatla
134 Siviwe Soyizwapi
464 Branco du Preez
108 Selvyn Davids