Blitzbok coach Neil Powell has selected a powerful squad to defend the Dubai leg of the World Sevens Series which kicks off in the Emirates next weekend.
As defending champions‚ SA will be the prized scalp on the 2017/18 circuit after winning five of last season’s 10 events and making eight finals.
Powell will target the first two tournaments of the season in Dubai and Cape Town‚ having already suggested that he will take inexperienced squads to events later in the season as part of a delicate balancing act.
This season also includes the Sevens World Cup and the Commonwealth Games‚ two events South Africa is targeting.
Regulars such as former captain Kyle Brown‚ Kwagga Smith‚ Justin Geduld and Seabelo Senatla are back in the squad.
Brown only played in the first two tournaments of the 2016/17 before he picked up a serious knee injury.
Geduld missed five tournaments due to a foot injury while Smith and Senatla missed six each because of Super Rugby commitments in the second half of the campaign.
Tim Agaba is the only player in the team who did not travel to Dubai last year‚ where South Africa’s victory kick-started a wonderful season for the Blitzboks.
The Blitzboks are laden with experience‚ with the average number of tournaments per player standing at 37‚ the highest average ever for a Springbok Sevens team in the World Series tournament.
“We are fortunate to be in this situation‚” said Powell.
“There was a concerted effort to broaden our player base last season as we knew we would lose Seabelo and Kwagga after four tournaments‚ but then we lost Kyle and Justin to injury as well and that certainly tested us.
“Despite blooding a handful of new guys last year‚ we still have the benefit of a really solid squad. We were blessed with the lack of injuries‚ especially as a number of the players had a stint in fifteens as well.”
Powell feels that the mental challenge will be as big as the physical one.
“We know we can win tournaments if we believe in our systems and structures‚” said Powell.
“The reality is that we will have a target on our backs this year‚ being the defending champions‚ not only in the series‚ but also in Dubai. We need to keep on believing that we can maintain the standards we have set as a team.”
Philip Snyman will again captain the side during the series.
“It is hard to believe it is that time of the year again and to be honest‚ we can’t wait to get onto the field and play‚” said Snyman.
“It was a tough pre-season‚ but once the full squad joined‚ so did the intensity and focus.”
The experienced Snyman will be representing South Africa in his 48th tournament and he is as keen as his debut at this venue way back in 2008.
“Make no mistake‚ all the teams are getting better and better and if you are not at your best‚ anyone can beat you‚” he warned.
“We have seen that and experienced it ourselves in the past‚ so cannot look past Uganda in our first match. After that‚ we can move our focus on to Kenya and Canada‚ our other opponents in the pool”.
The Springbok Sevens squad for Dubai: 1. Chris Dry (62 tournaments‚ 298 matches‚ 455 points‚ 91 tries); 2. Philip Snyman (capt‚ 47 tournaments‚ 207 matches‚ 296 points‚ 53 tries); 3. Tim Agaba (10 tournaments‚ 49 matches‚ 30 points‚ six tries); 4. Kwagga Smith (28 tournaments‚ 135 matches‚ 275 points‚ 55 tries); 5. Werner Kok (29 tournaments‚ 142 matches‚ 350 points‚ 70 tries); 6. Kyle Brown (58 tournaments‚ 285 matches‚ 395 points‚ 79 tries); 7. Branco du Preez (55 tournaments‚ 275 matches‚ 1049 points‚ 77 tries); 8. Rosko Specman (21 tournaments‚ 111 matches‚ 273 points‚ 49 tries); 9. Justin Geduld (30 tournaments‚ 152 matches‚ 677 points‚ 75 tries); 10. Cecil Afrika (53 tournaments‚ 273 matches‚ 1297 points); 11. Seabelo Senatla (33 tournaments‚ 167 matches‚ 945 points‚ 189 tries); 12. Ruhan Nel (21 tournaments‚ 104 matches‚ 182 points‚ 36 tries); 13. Marco Labuschagne* (1 tournament‚ 2 matches‚ 0 points)