Siviwe Soyizwapi will lead a vastly experienced Springboks Sevens squad featuring a number of returning veterans at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens tournament next weekend as the 2019/20 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series kicks off.
The winger, who will run out in his 29th tournament for the Blitzboks, has been named captain for the new season by Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell, and will take the field along several experienced and decorated sevens players returning to the national squad for the series opener at The Sevens Stadium.
Former World Player of the Year, Seabelo Senatla, World Player of the Year nominee Rosko Specman and current SA Rugby Sevens Player of the Year, Dylan Sage, will return to the Blitzboks alongside Ruhan Nel, who will don national colours for the first time in a year after he toured with the Springboks to Europe in November 2018.
Senatla, Sage and Nel return to the World Series after a year’s absence. They will join second-year Blitzboks in JC Pretorius and Kurt-Lee Arendse, who will take the field in Blitzbok colours for the first time in Dubai, having played for the SA Rugby Sevens Academy in last year’s tournament.
Ryan Oosthuizen, Chris Dry, Zain Davids, Selvyn Davids and Justin Geduld will again form the core of the team, with the latter nearing the 1000 points mark in the World Series.
Powell said selection was tough, especially as their preparations are well on track.
“I think we are better prepared compared to the same time last year,” said Powell.
“We had warm-up tournaments in Germany, Kenya and England and everyone had a good run in at least one of those. Selection was tough, as most of the regulars are available for the opening tournament.”
Players such as Werner Kok, who just returned from Toulouse where he was a medical joker, and Hacjivah Dayimani have been named in the SA Rugby Sevens Academy side that will also play in Dubai to get some valuable game time, Powell explained.
SA Rugby Sevens Academy graduate Christi Grobbelaar will travel as 13th player and if called upon, will make his debut in the World Series.
“We had a poor start in Dubai last year and it took us a while to recover from that,” said Powell.
“We can’t promise anything this time around, but I am pretty sure the effort will be there and if that is the case, we will be very competitive.”
The squad won the tournament in Germany and were losing finalists in Kenya and England, with Powell adding: “Those results were good for us, because it removed any complacency we might have had. The margins between the teams in the World Series are so small that one bad game will punish you. We will be very aware of that.”
Soyizwapi took over the captaincy for the last four tournaments last season after Philip Snyman got injured. The Maclear-born player said he is comfortable in his new role.
“We have a number of experienced players in the squad, which makes my job much easier. The leadership group in the team is also settled and that helps a lot,” said Soyizwapi.
“We have prepared well and worked hard to be ready for this. The first tournament is normally one of the toughest out there and everybody is still fresh and eager to make their mark, so every match is a real battle.”
South Africa face England, Spain and Kenya in Pool D of the tournament, while HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions Fiji will face France, Argentina and Japan in pool A. In pool B USA, Australia, Scotland and newcomers Ireland will battle it out. New Zealand, Samoa, Canada and Wales are in pool C.
The Blitzbok squad is:
1. Chris Dry (68 tournaments, 342 matches; 465 points, 93 tries)
2. Ryan Oosthuizen (17 tournaments,83 matches; 85 points, 17 tries)
3. Dylan Sage (24 tournaments, 134 matches; 155 points, 31 tries)
4. Zain Davids (18 tournaments, 88 matches; 60 points, 12 tries)
5. JC Pretorius (five tournaments, 27 matches; 55 points; 11 tries)
6. Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain; 28 tournaments, 145 matches; 445 points, 89 tries)
7. Selvyn Davids (14 tournaments, 69 matches; 300 points; 31 tries, 71 conversions, 1 penalty)
8. Rosko Specman (28 tournaments, 150 matches; 380 points; 70 tries, 15 conversions)
9. Justin Geduld (46 tournaments, 239 matches; 951 points;104 tries, 214 conversions, 1 penalty)
10. Kurt-Lee Arendse (four tournaments, 16 matches; 45 points, nine tries)
11. Seabelo Senatla (39 tournaments, 203 matches; 1120 points, 224 tries)
12. Ruhan Nel (28 tournaments, 147 matches; 247 points; 49 tries, 1 conversion)
13. Christi Grobbelaar (on debut)