Photo credit: Mike Lee – KLC fotos for World Rugby
Three days of action kicks off on Friday afternoon in the Mother City, with the women’s competition once again running alongside the men following last weekend’s opening round in Dubai.
South Africa’s Blitzboks were gold medal winners in the Gulf state after beating New Zealand in the final, taking them into their home event as favourites.
The pool draw, however, has not been kind to Neil Powell’s men, who have been planted squarely into the ‘group of death’ in Pool A along with reigning series champions Fiji, USA and Japan.
Victims of their own success, if you like, with the 2016 Olympic Games gold medal winners failing to make it out of their first pool of the season in Dubai, albeit with memories of last year’s gold medal in Cape Town still in mind for coach Gareth Baber and Co.
After the way they played on the opening weekend in Dubai – including keeping New Zealand scoreless in the final, the Blitzboks might feel a bit aggrieved about the draw.
Captain Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi laughs when asked the question.
“All the games in the World Series have become tough games. There’s no easy game for teams to play,” he says.
But the Blitzboks had a storming out over in Dubai. The final and beating England – a team often considering a bit of a bogey team for the South Africans – was a huge confidence boost.
“England is a really good side and beating them was a positive for us. I’m happy with the guys delivered and implementing the gameplans we’ve been discussing,” Soyizwapi adds.
And then there was Rosko Specman. Or Specmagic. And magical he was. He ran riot, scoring four tries across the tournament. Remarkably, that wasn’t the most for an individual player over the weekend. That honour belongs to Ireland’s Jordan Conroy, who crossed the whitewash seven times.
Dubai Sevens 2019-20: Most tries
France’s Terry Bouhraoua scored six while both Dan Norton from England and Salesi Rayasi from New Zealand dotted down five times.
A quartet of tries was achieved by nine players, Specman being one of them.
The feisty 30-year old wasn’t even the top points scorer for South Africa over the weekend – he was just behind Justin Geduld.
Dubai Sevens: Most points for South Africa
But Specman was clearly having buckets of fun. And importantly, he avoided getting into trouble with officials, finding the right blend of being a nuisance for the opposition and an asset for his side.
“It comes with maturity, knowing when to react and how to react,” said Soyizwapi of Specman’s Dubai performance.
“But it really was all-round incredible team effort in Dubai,” the captain emphasizes.
South Africa will hoping for some more of that magic on Friday.
It’s the invitational Japanese side that provide the opposition for South Africa’s Friday night opener, as they bring the curtain down on the first day with a 20:03 (SAST) kick off.
Mike Friday’s Americans tackle the flying Fijians in the penultimate of eight opening day matches in the male section at 19:35 in the Cape Town Stadium, both nations with a point to prove in the Cape.
Pool D begins the action on the African continent at 16:37 when Australia and series newcomers Ireland meet for the second time in successive legs.
The Irish must iron out the errors that cost them dearly in a 45-21 thumping last time out against the Aussie gold in a harsh introduction to life on the circuit.
There’s also a tasty tussle to be had in Pool C on the opening evening as old rivals England and Scotland go head-to-head at 17:43.
Saturday will see the intensity ramp up in front of a crowd of over 50 000, with the hosts facing a pair of tantalising fixtures to secure their place in the Cup knockout stages.
First Fiji will look to serve up a late lunch special when they go up against the Blitzboks at 13:51.
South Africa then face a wait until the final match of the pool stage when they battle it out with the USA at 20:03 in a potentially crucial game under the floodlights.
The Aussies are also in early action on Saturday at 10:57 when they open day two against Kenya.
New Zealand will continue to plot a course through a favourable Pool B draw after their Friday night opener against Wales when they take on Canada at 13:07 and Argentina (19:05).
It’s a prime opportunity for the All Blacks Sevens to set up a repeat of their progress to the Dubai final, having finished fourth in Cape Town last year following a run to the semi-finals before narrow defeat to the hosts.
England and Scotland also have France and Spain to contend with in their all-European group.
The final round of Pool C fixtures could prove pivotal, so keep an eye on Spain vs Scotland before England vs France at 18:13.
Antoinette is a recovering journalist, having written for Sports Illustrated, The Guardian, Daily Maverick and others. She has won multiple SAB Journalist of the Year awards, across a variety of categories. She thinks it’s strange writing about herself in the third person, unless she’s playing as herself in The Sims…which she’s been doing for over 20 years.