Defending champions South Africa, coming off an emotional home-soil title last month, enters this week’s Rugby Sevens World Series event at Las Vegas trying to overtake leaders New Zealand.
The Springbok Sevens beat New Zealand 17-14 in the final, rallying from 14 points down to win just days after the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela.
“We woke up on Friday and heard the sad news of Tata Madiba’s passing, and it was moving, to say the least,” South Africa captain Kyle Brown said, referring to Mandela.
“To be involved in a weekend like that, where everything fell into place and worked out as it did, it was really something incredible and one of those unforgettable weekends,” he added.
That triumph pushed South Africa to 56 points, trailing the Kiwi Sevens squad by only two points as the nine-event series makes stop No. 4 in the US gambling mecca, where South Africa won in 2011 and last year on the narrow field at Sam Boyd Stadium.
“The narrow pitch doesn’t change our tactics,” Brown said. “We are already a defense-orientated team and that is something we thrive on, which gives us a little bit of benefit here.”
“But because defense is so key for us and with the pitch a bit narrower, it gives the opposition teams a little bit less space to work with and tightens the screws a bit,” he added.
Brown, set to play in his 37th World Series event starting today, missed last year’s Vegas tournament.
South Africa are drawn in pool A with Wales, Canada and Kenya, while New Zealand are in Pool B along with Australia, Scotland and Fiji.
England are in Pool C with Samoa, Portugal and Uruguay, with the US hosts joined in Pool D by France, Argentina and Spain.
The first two round-robin matches are to be played today.