These are the obstacles to be overcome as they aim to consolidate their place among the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders in round four of eleven events.
The Blitzboks will aim for a strong start late on Friday evening (22h10, SA time), when they kick off with a tough clash against Canada in the tournament opener, which will be followed by Pool D matches early on Saturday morning against Spain (01h38 SA time) and Argentina (04h44 SA time).
Impi Visser, one of only five players with more than 10 tournaments’ worth of experience in the Blitzbok squad, is fully aware of the challenges that await them this weekend.
Apart from a few injured players, the South Africans will be without the retired Branco du Preez, as well as JC Pretorius, Muller du Plessis and Sako Makata, all of whom have moved on to XVs.
“We’ve lost a couple or regulars, so it’s important that we get the young guys up to speed and on the same page quickly,” said Visser, who forms part of the experienced core of the side along with Siviwe Soyizwapi, Zain Davids, Ryan Oosthuizen and Selvyn Davids.
“Luckily, the younger guys are very excited, and they bring a different energy to the team, so it’s going to be interesting to see what they produce on the weekend. But it’s also a tough tournament considering the 11-hour time difference, so it’s important to have guys who know how to approach this tour.
“We have a few experienced guys who know all about it, including coach Philip (Snyman), and I think it helps to have those guys here, to guide the younger players and show them the ropes so they can more easily slot into this new time zone.”
Apart from fervent support for the All Blacks Sevens, the Blitzboks can also expect to encounter large contingents of fans for the teams from the Pacific, and Visser reckons the atmosphere will be electric this weekend.
“It’s basically the islanders’ home tournament, and the stadium will be painted blue especially with all the Fijian supporters in attendance,” he said. “The atmosphere will be great, but it’s always tough to come play this far east, and we love the challenge and we’re looking forward to the weekend.”
After a slow start to the 2023 World Series in Hong Kong, the Blitzboks picked up steam as they won the Dubai tournament before narrowly missing out on a spot in the final in Cape Town.
Visser was understandably happy with their improvement in the last two months, as their first aim for the season is to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris with a top-four finish in the World Series. He said he wasn’t surprised about what happened after Hong Kong.
“We, as the more senior guys in the team, made a conscious decision to change things,” said Visser.
“We had some hard talks and honest conversations, and our attitude was to not let things slip, and to keep players accountable.
“We saw that if you fix the off-field issues, it will flow over onto the field, and we saw the results in Dubai and Cape Town. Although we couldn’t pull it through at home, we still played some very good rugby and there were some great moments.
“Our main goal for the season is to ensure we qualify for the Olympic Games next year, but we also want to win the World Series. I know we have the firepower and it’s something we can achieve, but first we have to ensure we book our tickets to France in 2024.”