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Strong start crucial for Blitzboks in San Francisco – Powell

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“Our opponents will play much earlier and then have a good break before they face us, which is not ideal.”

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IF there is one thing that Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell has learned this season, it’s that no team can be underestimated.

The Blitzboks will be hunting their first-ever World Cup title in San Francisco this weekend, and after successfully defending their World Sevens Series title in Paris after they had to overcome a few tough encounters, Powell cannot be blamed for practicing caution, especially in a game like Sevens.

The Blitzboks will play their first game at 9.15pm tonight at AT&T Park (6.15am Saturday morning, SA time) against either Ireland or Chile (who will square off in the preliminary round at 12.35am on Saturday morning, SA time).

“We have seen this year that no team can be underestimated, so we will need to be ready come Friday evening,” said Powell, who added that they had adapted their schedule slightly to ensure they are at their best when their first match starts.

“We changed some of our sessions around and also played against Argentina in a chukka, which helped a lot. The guys have shown a good appetite this week and I am happy that we will be delivering a strong performance.”

Powell also said that he isn’t too worried about the “physical side of things” – it’s the psychological test that he feels his side will need to pass if they are to win their maiden World Cup.

There will be no second chances or any room for slip-ups when the 2018 edition of the Rugby World Cup Sevens kicks off today, and the fact that the competition will be contested in a straight knock-out format of course adds to the pressure to perform from the get-go.

And seeing that whoever they face will have gained some momentum before heading into their second match of the tournament, Powell feels that a strong start is crucial, although he is confident about the preparation they’ve put in ahead of the showpiece.

“We had a number of great training sessions, held two productive training camps and since our arrival here we have played a warm-up match against Argentina. Everything went well, so I am pretty pleased with that.

“We need to get out of the blocks well against the winner of the match between Chile and Ireland.

“The problem is that the winner of that encounter will be playing their second match of the day, and they will have some momentum and confidence when they play us. We start from scratch and that could count against us.”

While Ireland and Chile are seeded 16th and 17th respectively for the tournament and the Blitzboks – who won back-to-back World Sevens Series titles over the last two seasons – first, Powell emphasised the fact that no team can be regarded as an easy one.

“It will be a very long day for us,” he said.

“Our opponents will play much earlier and then have a good break before they face us, which is not ideal.”

From the team that will set out to win the Blitzboks’ first-ever Melrose Cup, only skipper Philip Snyman has World Cup experience (Dubai 2009 and Moscow 2013), while the rest of the squad will make their debuts at this level.

Snyman will also become the first Blitzbok to play in three Rugby World Cup Sevens tournaments.