With Chris Dry around, it’s inevitable that there will be smiles on the faces of his fellow Blitzboks – whether it is his infectious attempts to rap, his no-nonsense approach at training or his proven ability between the four lines, you want to have the experienced traveller around come game day in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
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This weekend, in Hamilton at the HSBC New Zealand Sevens at the FMG Stadium Waikato, it will be no different. Not only will bring Dry the same effort that has made him the leading tackler for his side after two tournaments, but his strike rate to play in finals will be another factor the Springbok Sevens team will hope to stay true.
Dry has played in 32 finals in 70 tournaments and the 31-year-old is nearing the 100 try mark for his country, normally a feat deserved for the quicker backs.
His ninth visit to New Zealand has delivered the usual so far, with some new songs and dance moves developed on the team bus, but it will be when they face Japan and England on Saturday that the lineout expert, ruck destroyer and bruising tackler will show his real value to the Blitzboks.
Dry has been pretty relaxed thus far, but it will change as his 355th match for his country approaches.
“I enjoy New Zealand and coming here – it is a beautiful country and the people are very friendly and nice and relaxed,” the two-time World Series winner explained after the team's final training session.
Come the Japan match on the opening day, and the relaxed demeanour will disappear.
“We prepared well for this tournament. The format has changed slightly, but we adapted the training sessions for that back in Stellenbosch already,” said Dry.
“Our coaching staff mirrored what we can expect here back home already, so we will be ready for what we will face. As a team, we do not look past the first match anyway, so our preparation will be Japan and what we need to do against them to be successful.
“The Japanese are a quality team, but we will focus on our own efforts and what we need to do to be successful. They are not affected that much by the time difference, but the experienced core of our squad makes things easier in order to adapt to the 11-hour time difference.
“A lot of the guys have been here many times, so we have learned over the years how important it is to adapt and not go to sleep during the day.”
Although he likes making jokes and singing songs, bringing the effort to the field is something completely different for Dry.
“That is where it counts and where we need to make it count,” he said.
“One cannot always be sure what Japan will bring, but we have no excuse not to bring our best to the match. Our coaching staff prepared us well for this, we must now go out and execute and play to our abilities.”
Blitzbok coach Neil Powell said it was heart-warming to see the effort by the players in training this week.
“The guys showed great attitude,” said Powell.
“It is not easy to change your sleeping patterns and the 11-hour time difference has an impact, but our guys were great in how they handled that. There was good energy.”
The Blitzboks played Japan both in Dubai and Cape Town last month, scoring big wins in both, but Powell is adamant that those results are in the past.
“For a start, this is not the same squad that played in those two tournaments – in fact, it is probably the strongest Japan team we have seen in a while,” warned the Blitzbok coach.
“Several of their stars are back, guys that played in the World Cup and even the Olympics, so they will be a tough nut first up. They have some good balance in their team, with a few Fijian-born players with their offloading game complimenting the nippy and fast Japanese runners. So, we dare not underestimate them.”
All of Japan, England and Kenya will test the Blitzboks in various ways, but for Powell the focus will be on the first match.
“We only play two matches on the first day, so we can leave it all out there and make sure we come back strong on the second day for our match against Kenya.”
The Springbok Sevens squad:
1. Chris Dry (70 tournaments, 354 matches; 480 points, 96 tries)
2. Angelo Davids (two tournaments, 11 matches, 10 points – 2 tries)
3. Impi Visser (11 tournaments, 57 matches, 65 points, 13 tries)
4. Zain Davids (20 tournaments, 100 matches; 65 points, 13 tries)
5. Werner Kok (47 tournaments, 240 matches; 530 points, 106 tries)
6. JC Pretorius (seven tournaments, 39 matches; 70 points; 14 tries)
7. Branco du Preez (71 tournaments, 361 matches; 1302 points; 94 tries, 413 conversions, 1 penalty, 1 drop goal)
8. Selvyn Davids (16 tournaments, 81 matches; 334 points: 35 tries, 78 conversions, 1 penalty)
9. Justin Geduld (48 tournaments, 251 matches; 1016 points; 109 tries, 234 conversions, 1 penalty)
10. Cecil Afrika (62 tournaments, 324 matches; 1440 points – 175 tries, 281 conversions, 1 penalty)
11. Muller du Plessis (10 tournaments, 44 matches; 155 points, 31 tries)
12. Stedman Gans (captain, 18 tournaments, 85 matches; 130 points, 26 tries)
13. Sako Makata (six tournaments, 25 matches; 10 points, two tries) – official reserve.
Blitzboks’ playing schedule (SA kick-off times):
Saturday, 25 January
02h03 – Japan
07h30 – England
Sunday, 26 January
01h13 – Kenya
The Pools in Hamilton are:
A: New Zealand, Scotland, USA, Wales
B: South Africa, Kenya, England, Japan
C: France, Ireland, Canada, Spain
D: Fiji, Argentina, Australia, Samoa
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of South African Rugby Union.
Note to Editors:
Audio notes of Neil Powell and Chris Dry (Afrikaans and English) can be downloaded here (http://bit.ly/36q0WDU).
HSBC New Zealand Sevens Stats pack