Former England Sevens star Rob Vickerman looks ahead to the HSBC Cape Town sevens this weekend.
Dubai went to form
In what seems a rarity given the competitiveness of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in recent times it was somewhat of a surprise to see the four semi finalists at the Dubai sevens being the top four seeds from last year.
New Zealand toppling England in the semis set the scene for their first opportunity to bag a title since Vancouver 2016, a staggering 15 tournaments ago.
However, the South African team had a different script, naming a squad with immense talent and a formidable average appearance of 36 tournaments per player, which for a series with 10 events a year is staggering. The series champions handled the pressure of being favourites very well and took the title with style.
England finished the tournament with a good performance against Fiji. Notable performances from Tom Mitchell and James Rodwell showed their guile and experience with some really encouraging performances from the younger pair of Harry Glover and Ethan Waddleton.
England will take note of the physicality New Zealand brought to their game, and will seek to go one better come this weekend. The lack of hair post ‘Braving the Shave’ in memory of Alex Davis’ father was a clear relief for their sweat levels, and whilst not great for the commentary team, proved to be a unifying element of a pre-season rewarded by decent performances.
The Mother City
Having been back to the UK in-between the legs of Dubai and Cape Town it is clear that the players will be returning to a weather system that will shock their system.
The feeling walking off the plane in crisp England was a stark difference to embarking into the sauna like conditions of Cape Town, as the gauges in the airport declared 33 degrees – even hotter than the irrespirable Dubai.
I remember this being a brilliant time to be on tour, as the players will be returning for the Christmas build up, but they will all know they have a huge job to do first this weekend, one that is the reason they are away. Their cross over for the quarters on day two will be New Zealand or Australia, which will focus the mind, for sure.
Cape Town crusade
As reigning champions of the Cape Town Sevens the England team should go into this leg with a huge amount of confidence. The South African team, the Blitzboks, have started this season impressively, as they showed so many times last year. However, the English teams were their Achilles heel last season defeating them more than any other team.
England beat the home side this time last year in what was a real shock, especially to the 50,000+ fanatical supporters. The whole city is talking about the upcoming event, and the pride the country, and specifically this city, has in their Sevens team comes through in every pore.
The South African players will have to once more play under this extra pressure of a sold out stadium and high expectancy of success. However, they will do so knowing they are more than capable, have won the previous three before England took last year’s gold medals.