Youthful Blitzbok team named for Las Vegas Sevens

JOHANNESBURG — Blitzbok coach Neil Powell had warned at the start of the 2018/19 World Sevens Series competition that the South Africans were going through a period of rebuilding. Once again he’s lost players to the more lucrative Super Rugby, and through injury. Rosko Specman is the latest player to join the 15-man game, and had a scintillating debut for the Bulls against the Stormers with a brace of tries, reminding Blitzbok fans what they’re missing this season. As the team prepares for the North American leg of the competition, injury has once again forced Chris Dry out of the team that he had recently rejoined after 14 months of rehabilitation after suffering major knee ligament damage. This time it’s a rib that has laid the big man low. In rebuilding his team, Powell has brought in one debutant while four players have competed in 6 or less World Sevens Series tournaments. There is still significant experience in the side with four players having played 40 or more tournaments. South Africa is in fourth place on the overall log (the top four teams are given automatic qualification for next year’s Olympic Games). They are 15 points behind Fiji and 19 points behind joint leaders New Zealand and USA. After the Las Vegas tournament, the competition reaches the halfway mark. Nothing short of a win for the Blitzboks and poor performances from the teams above them will give them a sniff of a chance for an unlikely third successive World Sevens Series title. – David O’Sullivan

From SARugby

Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell has selected the 20-year-old debutant Sako Makata in the Springbok Sevens team for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens tournaments in the USA and Canada next month.

The former Stirling High School player will become the 176th Blitzbok since the inception of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 20 years ago when he takes to the field at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, 1 March.

Earlier this month, 21-year-old JC Pretorius was handed his debut in Sydney and with Makata joining him in the forwards, the Blitzboks will travel with a youthful squad to Las Vegas, where South Africa will face Japan, Chile and England in Pool D of the tournament.

Powell also recalled Ryan Oosthuizen, Mfundo Ndhlovu and Muller du Plessis to the travelling 13-man squad that will depart for the USA on Friday, totalling four changes to the side what placed fifth in Sydney in their previous tournament.

Chris Dry was ruled out with a rib injury, while Kyle Brown, the most capped Blitzboks ever, sits out on this trip. Dewald Human and Zain Davids will also remain in Stellenbosch to continue training with the SA Rugby Sevens Academy squad.

The 21-year-old Ndhlovu was due to play in Hamilton and Sydney before a hamstring niggle ruled him out shortly before departure, while Oosthuizen, 23, last played for the Blitzboks at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens.

The 19-year-old Du Plessis, who picked up an injury in the opening match in Cape Town in December, is also eased back into action and will travel east as 13th player.

For Powell, Makata’s inclusion was always on the cards.

“Sako has been with us for the last two years and deserves this opportunity,” said Powell.

“He has been a real stalwart for the SA Rugby Academy side in that time, co-captaining them to Dubai and South America, and now he gets the opportunity he has been working very hard for.”

Makata represented Border at the Under-18 Craven Week in 2016, where he was spotted and scouted into the SA Rugby Sevens Academy. He also played for DHL Western Province Under-19 on the wing in 2017 and represented the Academy in 2018.

“Sako is a strong young man and I am very pleased to have him in the squad,” said Powell.

“JC showed in Sydney that the younger guys are ready and itching to play. Part of the wider strategy this year was to expand the player base and Sako is part of our plans going forward, so his inclusion is a natural progression in our plan.

“Ryan has worked hard since his last tournament in Cape Town and Mfundo and Muller are both fit again, so I am very pleased to be able to take both to North America. Mfundo was unlucky to pick up a strain just before we left for New Zealand and Muller has slotted in well when he returned to the squad last week.”

Powell said the trip will be about restoring pride in their performances: “We are travelling with a younger group, but I have faith in the abilities of every player in the squad.

“We need to regain our consistency and we fixed a number of things at training in the last week, so the focus will be in implementing that in our matches against Japan, Chile and England,” he said.

The Springbok Sevens squad is:

  1. Ryan Oosthuizen – 12 tournaments; 56 matches (60 points, 12 tries)
  2. Philip Snyman (captain) – 58 tournaments; 263 matches, 356 points (65 tries, 16 conversions)
  3. Impi Visser – 4 tournaments; 24 matches, 10 points (2 tries)
  4. Sako Makata – on debut
  5. Werner Kok – 41 tournaments; 208 matches, 480 points (96 tries)
  6. JC Pretorius – 1 tournament, 6 matches, 0 points
  7. Branco du Preez – 65 tournaments; 328 matches, 1204 points (86 tries, 383 conversions, 1 penalty, 1 drop goal)
  8. Selvyn Davids – 9 tournaments; 42 matches, 160 points (20 tries, 30 conversions)
  9. Justin Geduld – 40 tournaments; 206 matches, 889 points (92 tries, 213 conversions, 1 penalty)
  10. Stedman Gans – 13 tournaments; 58 matches, 85 points (17 tries)
  11. Siviwe Soyizwapi – 22 tournaments; 113 matches, 360 points (72 tries)
  12. Mfundo Ndhlovu – 2 tournaments, 10 matches, 10 points (2 tries).
  13. Muller du Plessis – 6 tournaments, 26 matches, 85 points (17 tries) – official reserve

Selected stats:

  • The Blitzboks have won the HSBC Las Vegas Sevens four times – in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2017.
  • Branco du Preez was part of the squad that won the HSBC Las Vegas Sevens on all four occasions.
  • Werner Kok could score his 100th try for the Blitzboks in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. He dotted down 96 times for his country already.