Springbok Women’s Sevens co-captain Zintle Mpupha is hopeful her side can take “two more steps” towards HSBC SVNS safety when they compete in their home tournament in Cape Town this week.
Mpupha and South Africa made an encouraging start to their first season as a core team in eight years, running defending series champions New Zealand and Olympic bronze medallists Fiji incredibly close on their way to 10th place in Dubai last weekend.
The Black Ferns Sevens needed a last-minute Sarah Hirini try to secure victory in the teams’ opening match, while South Africa also led Fijiana heading into the final 120 seconds of their second Pool A assignment before suffering heartbreak at the hands of Reapi Ulunisau.
South Africa won their first match of HSBC SVNS 2024 on day two in Dubai, beating Spain 17-0, before going on to lose the ninth-place play-off against Japan.
For Mpupha, who will be restricted to a watching brief at DHL Stadium as she follows head injury assessment (HIA) protocols, the result represented the latest step on a journey she hopes will be full of learning and will end with SVNS survival and a positive debut at the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
“We’re very, very happy with the performance over the last weekend,” Mpupha told World Rugby.
“We’re very pleased with coming into the tournament as the 12th team and finishing off in 10th. We're calling it the right step into the right direction, if that makes sense.
“You wouldn't want to get into the tournament at 12th and want to finish number one, number three. Being realistic really drives the girls to really reach where we want to be at the end of the day.
“I'm very happy with the step that we are in coming into this tournament and if we keep on working on those strides, I mean, I don't think there's anything that can stop us until the end of the season.
“Everyone is not only targeting the end of the season, but [taking it] bit by bit and step by step and I'm very pleased with the step that we took last week and hopefully we'll take two more steps this week, or even one step.
“It's going to be a very long season that is only going to be determined after the points have been drawn down after that last stop in Madrid.”
Focusing on themselves
Mpupha is full of praise for the character her team-mates displayed in Dubai but admits that having come so close to earning not one but two statement victories, the Springbok Women’s Sevens must improve their game management.
That could prove more important at HSBC SVNS Cape Town given their Pool C opponents will have access to significantly more video of the team in action than before Dubai.
“We'll just keep on focusing on ourselves,” Mpupha said. “We know it's going to be a bit tougher this week as well because no one really had our footage getting into Dubai and no one knew how we were going to play.
“But now people can see how we do stuff and now they're gonna analyse us.”
Something that the Springbok Women’s Sevens have in their favour is the confidence gained from winning the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 just down the road in Stellenbosch.
Mpupha hopes that playing in front of a home crowd at DHL Stadium this Saturday and Sunday can help the team scale new heights on home soil.
“It’s always special to play in front of a home crowd,” Mpupha explained.
“When you look up and you see the same green jerseys around the field, it really calms me down sometimes and really gives that extra energy when you run out of energy. It gives you the courage to fight for something instead of just letting it sink into your mind that you're really tired.
“Having played the [Rugby] World Cup [Sevens] in front of a home crowd and the Challenger Series as well the fans have been great. Even though we didn't get what we wanted out of the World Cup, they never left us or gave up on us.
“It's just that consistent support that really makes playing at home very special for us and, you know, going into this tournament we're really looking and calling out for our friends again to just go out there for us and back us at each and every point of the tournament.”
South Africa will need the support of that ‘eighth player’ in the stands having been drawn in the tough looking Pool C, alongside Emirates Dubai 7s bronze medallists, France, Canada – who finished fourth at The Sevens Stadium – and USA, who came third in the overall 2023 series standings.
Mpupha is confident her team-mates can rise to that challenge on Saturday, however. “The performance that we put in last week against the number one [team] in the world and number three as well at the time, was really phenomenal,” she said.
“It's nothing different to how we approached the previous weekend, we can’t take the teams that we are playing for granted. I know they are core teams on the circuit... they're big teams, all of them reached the quarter-finals last week.
“You know, it's where we want to be and that's the challenge we all want to face each and every tournament. And we're really up for the challenge as well.
“Nothing ever comes easy and we're really going to fight for it and just stick together like we always do. And you never know what will happen at the end of the day.”
By Martyn Thomas