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Rugby | Sevens

Neil Powell © Gallo Images

Conventional game helping Blitzboks



The accepted norm is for young players who need to be polished in some areas to be sent to the Sevens code to serve an apprenticeship, but listening to Blitzbok coach Neil Powell speaking at a press conference at Cape Town Stadium, the trend may now be being reversed.

Powell will have several players who now boast quite extensive recent conventional 15-man code experience in his squad when the Blitzboks go out to regain the Cape Town HSBC Sevens title that they surrendered to England in the final of last year’s event. Kwagga Smith, who played well for the Lions in last year’s Super Rugby and was outstanding for the Barbarians in their recent clash with the All Blacks at Twickenham is the headline act when it comes to fifteens players playing Sevens this week, but there are others.

Seabelo Senatla was part of the Western Province team that won the Currie Cup at the end of October and so were Werner Kok and Ruhan Nel. Chris Dry captained the Free State Cheetahs Currie Cup team when the first choice team was on duty in the Guinness PRO14, and Rosko Specman has impressed for the Cheetahs in Europe. Cecil Afrika has also played for the Cheetahs since the end of last year's Sevens series.

Like Senatla, Specman and Smith are good enough to possibly in time challenge for the 15-man Springbok team, something that Senatla says remains his main aim, and the combative, man-on-man nature of Sevens will serve all of them well for that challenge. However, it is what the 15-man game has done for those players that is exciting Powell right now.

“The 15-man game has definitely helped the players who have returned and it has turned out to be a good decision to let so many of them play 15s,” said Powell as he looked forward to this weekend’s home leg of the HSBC Sevens Series that his team won so convincingly in 2016/2017.

“Some of them have made improvements that have caused me to raise my eyebrows. They have come back as better players, with the 15-man game improving them in different areas. The experience of playing top level 15-man rugby has been good for them.”

According to Senatla, who has been dovetailing between the codes for a couple of years now, it is easier to transition from Sevens to 15-man rugby than the other way around.

“Coming back to Sevens from 15s is quite a bit more difficult than the other way around, but it has become relatively easy for me now because I am used to it. I have become used to shifting through the systems,” said the Blitzbok flyer, who plays his rugby for Western Province and the Stormers but is originally from Welkom.

“I do have ambitions to become a 15-man Springbok, and later in my career I will probably specialise in 15s and only play that code, but for now I like transitioning between the two as it helps me improve as a player and grow. Sevens gives you one thing and the 15-man game gives you others, so playing both makes you a more complete player.”

Senatla was ruled out of the final of last year’s Cape Town Sevens because of injury and it had a big impact on the result. The hosts sorely lacked his electrifying pace, which had played such a big role in getting the team to the final, and a couple of mistakes cost the Blitzboks and they lost to England. The wear and tear of the Sevens circuit is a concern, and SA Rugby boss Jurie Roux said that concerns over player welfare could precipitate some minor adjustments to the HSBC World Sevens Series going forward.

However, Powell was in the happy position this week of arriving in Cape Town with a completely fit squad after winning the Dubai tournament and he had little hesitation in naming an unchanged group from the one that won in Dubai.

Blitzbok squad: Chris Dry, Philip Snyman, Tim Agaba, Kwagga Smith, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel.

Reserve: Siviwe Soyizwapi.



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