cape town stadium

General view during the HSBC Cape Town Sevens tournament held at the Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town on the 10th December 2016 (Photo by: Luke Walker / RealTime Images)

Cape Town Sevens: Seven reasons to be excited

This weekend marks the return of the Cape Town Sevens, the second stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

cape town stadium

General view during the HSBC Cape Town Sevens tournament held at the Cape Town Stadium in Cape Town on the 10th December 2016 (Photo by: Luke Walker / RealTime Images)

Neil Powell’s South African Blitzboks have won the overall crown for the last two campaigns, but not triumphed in their home tournament since the inaugural event in 2015. Can they make it third time lucky?

First, though, for information on important matters like parking, road closures, tickets and all the rest – read this. Then, we have seven reasons to be excited about Cape Town Sevens.

Hottest ticket in town

Last year all 50 000 tickets for the Cape Town Sevens sold out online in just 44 minutes, incredibly.

Although there is a new structure this time around – to make tickets more available to loyal fans – the tournament is expected to be sell out. With no rain forecast on either Saturday or Sunday, and a high temperature of 21° Celsius, Cape Town Stadium will be the place to be.

Seabalo Senatla, a key member of the Blitzboks team in recent years, calls Cape Town Sevens “the biggest jol [party]”.

The 25-year-old paceman, working with HSBC to help grow the game of sevens, tells The South African:

“It’s amazing. Absolutely unreal. As an athlete you dream of playing in a venue as huge as the Cape Town Stadium. It’s even better if everyone’s cheering for you.”

The luckiest fans will be in the HSBC Hot Seat, located at the bottom of the west stand. There they can enjoy an enhanced experience for two matches, with comfortable seating plus food and drink.

Hosts with a point to prove

Coach Neil Powell has steered South Africa to the last two HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series titles, after four consecutive runners-up spots, but his team have not reigned supreme on home soil since 2015, when the inaugural Cape Town Sevens took place.

Last year New Zealand triumphed 38-14 in the final against Argentina, as the Blitzboks claimed the plate. In 2016 Powell’s side were edged out 19-17 by England in the final.

Can they make it third time lucky? After a disappointing sixth-placed finish in Dubai, South Africa will have to bring their A-game – especially with Pool A also containing All Blacks Sevens, Samoa and Zimbabwe.

Getting shirty

Members of Powell’s team will run out wearing unique, Nelson Mandela-influenced shirts this weekend.

The jerseys, created as part of the Mandela 100 initiative to mark what would have been the former South African president’s 100th birthday, have a striking pattern inspired by the bright and colourful ‘Madiba’ shirts he wore.

“The back of the collar sports the Nelson Mandela 100 logo, while the inside of the collar features the quote ‘sport has the power to change the world’ – which Mandela famously said of the Boks’ 1995 Rugby World Cup win,” reports the Blitzboks’ website, Supporters looking to buy one of the special-edition shirts will have to be quick, however, as only 527 have been made. The first 27 will go to the Blitzbokke team and a limited release of only 500 jerseys for sale in South African stores

Taking inspiration from Mandela

This week the 16 captains on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series spent a moving and special day at Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid.

Philip Snyman, captain of the Blitzboks, said:

“The entire country celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela this year and we’re honoured to also have an opportunity to pay our respects as in this specially designed ‘Madiba’ jersey as part of South Africa Rugby’s contribution to the centenary celebrations of our first democratically elected president.”

Can it inspire the team to victory? “We are really looking forward to this weekend. You only get one opportunity to play in front of your home crowd, 50 000 people supporting you and then 50 million people at home. I think we will really inspire them by the fact that we will play in a limited edition jersey, a one-off jersey, as a tribute to the late Madiba.”

Try, try, and try again

During the 2018 season opener in Dubai, England’s Dan Norton became the founding member of the 300-try club.

The 30-year-old flier has now amassed 302 five-pointers in sevens, which is 31 more than second-placed Collins Injera of Kenya.

England, who finished third in Dubai, will be hoping Norton has his try-scoring shoes on this weekend, as they face a tough Pool C that includes reigning Olympic champions Fiji, France, and Kenya – who are currently without the talismanic Injera.

Young Blitzboks

The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series continues to be a stepping stone for international rugby stardom, so spotting the biggest future talents is always a thill at Cape Town Sevens.

Consider that five of New Zealand’s seven starting backs in November’s 16-15 win over England at Twickenham rose to fame on the sevens circuit.

The most recent example is Rieko Ioane, the 21-year-old winger who has scored 22 tries in only 24 Tests, having been featured in nine sevens tournaments. The hosts have an exciting talent to keep an eye on in teenager Muller du Plessis.

The 19-year-old, on the books of the Sharks, played four tournament last season, and touched down for six tries in Dubai – including a hat trick against Fiji in the fifth-placed match, which the Blitzboks lost 24-19 in extra time.

Sevens on the rise in South Africa

The success of the Blitzboks under Powell and his coaching staff has elevated the status of sevens in South Africa, according to the nation’s all-time point-scorer, Cecil Afrika, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury, but will return to the team in the New Year.

On the eve of the Cape Town tournament, the 30-year old, who has amassed 1 430 points, spoke to from a HSBC-Tag Rugby camp, which introduced “over 200” local children to rugby.

“It’s a phenomenal way to teach the guys about rugby,” he said.

“It’s about identifying space, creating space, and it is a great initiative to allow the kids to enjoy themselves while understanding rugby’s bigger picture.”

Community programmes, like HSBC-Tag Rugby, are helping to deliver a future pool of talent and contribute to the on-field success of the South Africa Sevens team.