South Africa will try to reach their fifth straight Sevens final and inch ahead of reigning series champions New Zealand when they defend their Tokyo title this weekend.
With four tournaments left, including next week’s Hong Kong Sevens, it could hardly be tighter at the top, with New Zealand leading the Springbok Sevens or “BlitzBokke” by just two points.
South Africa coach Neil Powell promised his side would respond after a 21-0 hammering by New Zealand in last month’s Wellington final.
“We will fall back on the guys that were here last year,” Powell said, boosted by the return of prolific try-scorer Seabelo Senatla from injury.
“We mustn’t get too caught up on the table and the points because we will put too much pressure on ourselves. It is all about the process and if we do the things well on the field, the outcomes will look after themselves,” he added.
South Africa beat New Zealand in both the Las Vegas and Port Elizabeth finals, and after the two sides also met in the Wellington decider, the table has a distinctly top-heavy feel.
However, Powell also warned that Dubai winners Fiji — currently third, but 26 points off the lead — and fourth-placed England both posed a threat in the Japanese capital.
“Fiji is a great team and England are playing some good rugby,” he said. “If we or New Zealand slip up, other sides will have a chance, so it’s important to reach at least the semi-finals here and next week in Hong Kong.”
South Africa have produced some sparkling performances this season in the short-form game, which is to make its debut at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Having reached the past four finals, they have been drawn alongside Argentina, Kenya and Japan in Pool B in Tokyo.
New Zealand, 11-time winners of the Sevens series, face Wales, Canada and Portugal in Pool A.
“You might predict a two-horse race, but Fiji could on their day easily win four tournaments in a row,” Kiwi skipper D.J. Forbes said, mindful that Fiji own the highest try-scoring rate in the series, with one in every 44 seconds of possession.
“South Africa are hot on our heels, but it was pleasing to win at home and get that monkey off our back after they beat us in a couple of finals,” Forbes added.
Hosts Japan will use the weekend to tune-up for the series promotion playoffs in Hong Kong.
National coach Eddie Jones is loaning his two best wingers, Yoshikazu Fujita and Kenki Fukuoka, to Japan’s sevens side with one eye also on the 2016 Olympic qualifiers.
“Every form of rugby is important in Japan, especially with the [15-a-side] World Cup here in 2019,” said Jones, who has recovered from a stroke he suffered last year.
“We need the team to do well. Fukuoka has blinding pace and Fujita is a good player, so it should be interesting,” he added.