Rugby World Cup Sevens: Blitzboks' proven mental strength key in straight-up knockout format

The Springbok Sevens Blitzboks dramatically retained the World Rugby Sevens Series title by winning the Paris Sevens to overhaul Fiji GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT/AFP/Getty Images

Springboks Sevens coach Neill Powell says the manner in which his team handled the pressure in the last tournament of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has given them a lot of confidence going into Rugby World Cup Sevens tournament in San Francisco this weekend.

More than a month has passed since the Blitzboks' improbable World Rugby Sevens Series win in Paris, where Powell's depleted team beat New Zealand in the semifinals and England in the final to secure the title of world champions after Fiji's shock exit from the cup competition in the quarters.

Powell would have preferred to play the World Cup straight after Paris, to use that momentum and go after the one sevens prize that has eluded the South Africans. But he will definitely make use of the mental toughness that his players showed in the knockout stages in Paris, which will help them tame this beast of a format.

The tournament will be played in a straight-up knockout format, and the eventual champions will have to win every match in order to lift the Melrose Cup. As such, it's not like a normal event on the sevens circuit, which features pool play before a knockout stage.

"It's a different proposition to what we are used to," Powell told KweséESPN "It's straight knockout. If you lose, you have no chance to make it to the cup competition.

"This is going to be more of a psychological test rather than a physical one [at the World Cup].

"The psychological impact of the last two matches [in Paris] is definitely something we can take into this tournament. Fiji lost in the quarterfinals, but we still had to win both the semifinal and the final to win the series."

The Blitzboks will play either Ireland or Chile in their first match of the tournament, in the Championship Cup quarterfinals. The top-seeded South Africans join the competition in the second round of matches, as only the teams seeded Mo. 9 to 24 contest the first round.

The Irish have been impressive after winning World Series status earlier this year in Hong Kong. They beat England at Twickenham in the London Sevens third-place playoff last month, and have a lot of speed in their team. They are certainly the sort of team who can shock the Blitzboks.

"We play our first game late on Friday evening [in San Francisco], which is going to make it a very long day to sit and wait," Powell said.

"Teams playing in the first round have got an advantage, getting that first match under the belt. We are only playing in the second round -- seeds one to eight -- and we have to make sure that we have momentum and self-belief before we start.

"We are going to try and simulate a first-round match in the morning, playing with the same intensity of a proper match. We want the guys to get their hands on the ball and get a few metres in the legs just to settle the nerves."