Dubai Sevens: South Africa not feeling pressure as they go for five in a row

Blitz Boks' remarkable dominance in the UAE belies fact they have yet to qualify for Paris Olympics

Selvyn Davids says South Africa's past success at the Dubai Sevens has no bearing on the team's approach to this year's tournament. AFP
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Arriving in Dubai as a captain of an HSBC Svns team has been a precarious business over the past two years. Really, it should come with hazard pay.

The job spec must read something like: leadership skills and a talent for rugby preferable; a head for heights essential.

Ahead of the 2022 Emirates Dubai Sevens, the promotional photoshoot took them to the top of The View on Palm Jumeirah.

This week they actually had to be harnessed to a roof around 400ft up in the air. At least the views were decent.

The stunt took place at One Za’abeel, with the captains standing atop The Link. The 741ft-wide structure is the longest sky cantilevered building in the world.

Happily for Selvyn Davids, the South Africa captain, he is used to heights. After all, his team have been looking down on the rest of Dubai for years.

The Blitz Boks will be going for a fifth Dubai title in a row this weekend. Since 2015, they have only failed to win the series-starting event in the UAE once.

They are by far the most successful side in Dubai Sevens history, having played in 11 finals, and only lost one.

The tournament is an outlier as they have not been quite so dominant on the world series in its entirety. They have won the series in three of the past seven years. Last season they finished a lowly seventh.

“I think it might be because everyone is fit at this specific moment,” Selvyn Davids, their captain, said of the potential reason for their ownership of the Emirates International Trophy.

“It is the first tournament of the season, and what also helps us is the heat. It is summer in South Africa at the moment and Stellenbosch [where SA sevens are based] is extremely hot, so that might play a role in helping us be successful.”

Davids does not go along with the idea that being perennial champions puts a target on their back.

“It doesn’t bring any pressure,” he said. “It is a sevens game and anything can happen. If we stick to what we have to do we can be successful.

“Whatever happened in previous years is in the past and we are not looking back. We will do what we have to do and take it from there.”

The Blitz Boks’ success in the abridged version of the game is no surprise. South Africa is, after all, unquestionably the dominant force in rugby at present.

They have won the past two XVs World Cups, as well as a British & Irish Lions series in between.

The sevens side are missing the biggest prize in their sport as yet, though. This season culminates with the Paris Olympics next summer, and so far, Fiji are the only men’s side to have tasted gold in that event.

Remarkably, South Africa have yet to qualify for Paris. They failed to finish in the top four of the world series last year, meaning they have to play in the final qualifying event next June in Monaco.

Only the winner of that 12-team event advances to Paris, and it also includes core series sides like Great Britain, Spain and Canada.

Davids termed the Games “the biggest sports event in the world” and the equivalent of winnings an XVs World Cup for sevens players.

He also said the success of their XVs colleagues is an inspiration for his sides, and something they want to imitate.

“It is the reason why we are doing it,” Davids said. “We are doing it for each other, for the people at home, for the fans. It is about giving our best every time we are on the pitch.

“The XVs side have had two great World Cups. For us to replicate on the world series what they did would be great. For us to be successful we have to keep doing it for the right reasons.”

South Africa are in a pool with New Zealand, Canada, Samoa and New Zealand on Saturday.

That might seem a group of death, but they all are now after the revamp of the world series led to a cut in the number of participating teams.

“With 12 team it is compressed even more,” Robbie Fergusson, the Great Britain captain, said.

“Every point matters and every game matters in this format. It is not just the top two that go through. Your points deficit and points for are all going to matter.

“It could come down to one phase of extra time and it is going to be competitive from the get go, rather that being able to ease yourself into it on Day 1.

“We can’t afford to do that this year. You have to be on it straight off the bat, which is good for us but also exciting for the fans.”

Updated: December 01, 2023, 11:26 AM