Hosts South Africa are hoping that home advantage would give the edge as they head into the men’s second round of the World Rugby Sevens Series in Cape Town from Dec 13-15.
In the opening leg of the series in Dubai last weekend, the Blitzboks were crowned champions after a thrilling victory over New Zealand in the final.
“(The atmosphere) is always electric and the fans always come out each and every day, so there’s going to be a big buzz and we get goosebumps every time we run onto the field,” said South African captain Siviwe Soyizwapi
They have named an unchanged squad after Dubai with three players – Rosko Specman, Ruhan Nel and Soyizwapi – all set to make their 30th series appearances. They are joined in Pool A by defending Cape Town Sevens champions Fiji, with World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year, Jerry Tuwai to play his 50th series event this weekend.
Last year’s runners-up USA are also in Pool A, and fielding an unchanged squad with Danny Barrett set for his 50th appearance, and invitational side Japan who make seven changes.
Pool B features Dubai silver medallists New Zealand, Canada Argentina, and Wales who have each made one change to their squads, with the latter two drafting in debutants.
“We were pretty pleased with our performance in Dubai with it being the first one of the year and making the final,” said New Zealand co-captain Tim Mikkelson.
“We are a bit disappointed not to go one more but the beautiful thing about sevens is that you always get another week to right the wrongs.”
Dubai’s bronze medal winners England have made two changes to their side along with their quarter-final opponents from last weekend, France.
Completing the all-European Pool C are Spain, who England are enjoying a 14-game winning streak against, and Scotland who reached the Cup quarter-finals in Cape Town last year.
The remaining teams that will take to the field on Friday are Samoa, Australia, Ireland and Kenya who make up Pool D.
Samoa, who lost out to England in the bronze medal match in Dubai, have confirmed an unchanged squad for the upcoming tournament while Australia welcome back captain Lewis Holland, Rodney Davies and Wallaby Sean McMahon, the latter having returned to the squad to try and realise his dream of playing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Ireland will play their first ever tournament in Cape Town after earning promotion to the world series, while Kenya scored their highest total of tries (20) at any tournament on the 2019 series in South Africa last year.
All men’s and women’s teams will play one pool match on Friday with the two remaining matches played on Saturday with the knockout stages bringing the curtain down on the tournament on Sunday.
South Africa is the 11th country to host a round of the women’s series since it began in late 2012 and Cape Town the 16th location after Dubai, Houston, Guangzhou, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Sao Paulo, Langford, London, Clermont-Ferrand, Sydney, Las Vegas, Kitakyushu, Paris, Glendale and Biarritz.
The women’s series in Dubai history will see Canada’s Bianca Farella and Kayla Moleschi draw level as the most capped players with New Zealand’s regular captain Sarah Hirini – who on Thursday became the first female recipient of the Tom French Memorial Maori Player of the Year award in its 70-year history.
It will also be an occasion that South Africa’s women will never forget as the Imbokodo play on home soil for the first time. The invitational team for this weekend’s event, it will be South Africa’s first appearance on the series since Dubai in late 2017 and captain Zintle Mpupha simply cannot wait.
“This is new to us being at home and we are all terribly excited and nervous,” Mpupha said. “We know two things – this group will play with massive heart and we will not give up.
“We realise the pace will be faster, the hits will be harder and the split-seconds will even be less. But knowing that we will be playing in our stadium, in front of our crowd, with our emblem and flag on the jersey, will give us massive energy and encouragement.
“We really hope to have a huge crowd when we play as we want to show our hearts, our guts and our talent to those who came to support us.”
The Imbokodo, who will face Dubai champions New Zealand in their opening match at Cape Town Stadium, have also received some advice from South Africa’s Rugby World Cup 2019 winning captain Siya Kolisi, who Mpupha said told them “not to worry about what other people might think or say, but to keep believing in what we want to achieve.”
South Africa will have six series debutants in their squad as they prepare to face the Black Ferns Sevens, Russia and Fiji in Pool A, with Zenay Jordaan and Mathrin Simmers the only players with event appearances in double figures.
New Zealand will again be led by Tyla Nathan-Wong, who was today named Black Ferns Sevens Player of the Year to go with the team’s accolade of New Zealand Team of the Year. The Black Ferns Sevens have made two changes from their victorious squad in Dubai with Youth Olympic Games gold medallists Risi Pouri-Lane and Mahina Paul coming into the 12, the latter to make her series debut.
Fiji also have a debutant in their squad for the second weekend running, with Ani Mei Likuvagali given her chance to impress as they target a second Cup quarter-final in a row, while Russia welcome back Aline Arterchuk and Snezhanna Kulkova for their first appearances of the 2020 series.
Canada, as runners-up in Dubai for the second year running, are the top seeds in Pool B and will face France, Spain and Brazil. Canada and France are the only two teams to named unchanged squads from Dubai with the latter’s Chloé Pelle to become her country’s third player to reach 30 series events.
Spain bring Lucia Diaz into the squad after she made her series debut as an injury replacement in Dubai, while Rafaela Zanellato also steps in to the squad after being 13th player, swapping places with Aline Bednarski in a Brazil side that ended a 12-match losing run on the series with victory over Japan in the 11th place play-off last weekend.
Dubai bronze medallists USA will face Olympic champions Australia, England and Ireland in Pool C. The Women’s Sevens Eagles have made only one change with Kasey McCravey coming in to replace Kayla Canett, who drops down to 13th player.
By contrast Australia have three changes to their squad with Evania Pelite ruled out through injury. Yasmin Meakes, Demi Hayes and debutant Jakiya Whitfield come in for a tournament that will see captain Sharni Williams and Shannon Parry move ahead of Charlotte Caslick to become their country’s most-capped players.
England, who beat Ireland in sudden-death extra-time to finish ninth in Dubai, bring in Beth Wilcock, while Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird also makes the 12 after being used as an injury replacement last weekend. Kate Farrell McCabe will make her series debut if, like Nic A Bhaird, is called upon in Cape Town.