Blitzboks aiming to improve set-pieces

Blitzbok coach Neil Powell.
Blitzbok coach Neil Powell.

Despite dominating the HSBC World Sevens Series last season‚ Blitzbok coach Neil Powell and the squad have been focusing on several areas of weakness as they prepare for the defence of their title in Dubai in a week's time.

The Blitzboks claimed five of the 10 titles last season‚ and also made eight finals.

They won 82% of their matches – 49 out of 60 with 10 defeats and a draw – and collected 192 log points.

Nearest challengers England lost 14 of their 58 matches with two draws for a 72% winning ratio while Olympic champions Fiji lost 16 of their 58 matches with one draw – a 71% winning ratio.

But within the season of dominance‚ they had their shortcomings‚ particularly against England‚ who beat SA in the Cape Town and Vancouver finals and twice in Pool play.

They were one rival that troubled SA all season. “If you look at losses against England‚ we gave away ball possession too easily and they made us pay for it‚” coach Neil Powell told SowetanLIVE.

“The key against them is hanging on to the ball and making them defend. What happened last year was they were able to make us defend against them.

“They were also clever in pushing us towards touch with their defensive system‚ and forcing lineouts where they had success in attacking our set piece and winning possession back.

“We are aware it went wrong against them and we are working at methods to ensure we have more possession against an England-type team.

“We are by far the smallest team on the circuit‚ but defensively one of the most successful. Our players work really hard on positioning and technique to ensure they make those one-on-one hits.”

Set-pieces have been a concern at times‚ especially as teams such as England identified attacking the small Blitzbok lineout as a good way to upset the pacesetter.

“Set-pieces were solid enough but we did struggle in the lineouts‚ especially against a team like England‚ who compete really well‚” Powell conceded.

“We are working ways on how to secure the ball when we’re up against highly competitive lineout teams.

“Towards the later part of the season our defensive system started unravelling a little bit.

"We didn’t ‘look after’ it as we say‚ for the final four tournaments.

“So we need to make it watertight again and in the contact area we still need to improve as well.”

Players such as Seabelo Senatla‚ Christ Dry‚ Rosko Specman‚ Werner Kok and Tim Agaba returned to the sevens training base in Stellenbosch last week after long stints of fifteens rugby in the Currie Cup and Pro 14.

Their experiences in the expanded format has had some benefits as well as some drawbacks for the players as they settle into their sevens habitat.

“The guys learnt a few things at fifteens and there is definitely something we can take from that‚ Powell said.

“One area is definitely their physicality‚ which has improved because fifteens demands it. If that’s the only thing they bring back‚ it’s a bonus for us.

“But there are also some habits that the players got into‚ which we are trying to eliminate at the moment.

"We've had about three weeks to sort it out.”

HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2017-18 Dates:

Dubai: 1-2 December‚ 2017

Capetown: 9-10 December

Sydney: 26-28 January‚ 2018

Hamilton: 3-4 February

Las Vegas: 2-4 March

Vancouver: 10-11 March

Hong Kong: 6-8 April

(Commonwealth Games 2018‚ Gold Coast: 14-15 April)

Singapore: 28-29 April

Paris: 26-27 May

London: 2-3 June

(Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018‚ San Francisco: 20-22 July)

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