Dubai Sevens: New-look South Africa get used to life after Neil Powell

Blitzboks have been Dubai's most successful side for a decade, but have arrived without many stars of the past

Siviwe Soyizwapi, South Africa’s captain, said the Blitzboks 'enjoy playing in Dubai'. Getty Images
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So dominant have they been in Dubai for so long, it often feels like South Africa just have to pitch up in the desert and they will end up with the Emirates International Trophy.

The Blitzboks have won the men’s World Series tournament at The Sevens in six of the past eight editions it has been contested, including each of the past three.

This year, though, they have arrived in UAE without many of the gilded stars of the past. Neil Powell, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the short format, moved on after the World Cup Sevens in September after nine years at the helm.

Multiple Dubai winners such as Werner Kok, Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla have long since departed, too.

Their squad for this weekend has two uncapped players, including one who sold his car in order to chase a professional career in rugby.

But this is the Blitzboks. No matter their relative inexperience – and they still have 84-tournament veteran Branco du Preez directing operations – they will still be the team to beat on Pitch 1.

“We enjoy playing in Dubai,” Siviwe Soyizwapi, South Africa’s captain, said.

“It gets hot this time of the year in Cape Town so I think it's always good preparation for us coming into Dubai [ahead of their home leg on the World Series next week].

“There's a lot of confidence that we can take from the previous years, however, we always have to start all over again with each tournament. So we'll take it a step at a time.

“It's really exciting to have our new coaches [Sandile Ngcobo replaced Powell] in the frame with new ideas that are coming through.

“I think you will see something new this coming weekend with two new debutants as well which brings something different that they can add to the squad, so I’m really excited to see it.”

One of the two newcomers, Ricardo Duarttee, has been handed his chance after a remarkable year.

It started out with him attempting to restart his stalled rugby career by enrolling in a programme at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport Sevens Academy.

To fulfil the course, he needed to sell his car in order to pay the deposit and fees. His investment has paid off to the tune of a first call up to the national team.

“I don't have words,” Duarttee said after being presented his Blitzboks jersey this week.

“I worked very hard to be in this position, but I realise that this is the next level.

“I hope to bring lots of energy to the squad and when given the opportunity, contribute to the overall effort. It is going to be massive and I can't wait.”

Updated: November 30, 2022, 7:55 AM