The inclusion of a number of high-profile players in the Blitzboks’ squad is good for the game in more ways than one, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Change is in the air, and sevens rugby is on the rise. Of that there is no doubt.
The inclusion of sevens in the Olympics for the first time has already altered the rugby landscape as we know it. Who would have thought the likes of Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard and Damian de Allende would ever be linked with an Olympic squad?
Yet, when an extended Blitzboks squad was unveiled on Wednesday, the pulling power of the Olympic Games was clear to see, with nine Springboks included in a wider training group that will be called upon during the 2015-16 season.
Coach Neil Powell must be licking his lips. It’s the first time a Bok Sevens coach has had such a vast array of talent at his disposal, and the results could be quite incredible.
To cut to the core of the matter, though, a squad of 34 will need to be reduced to 16 by the middle of next year, and then trimmed to just 12 by the time the Rio Games roll around in August. Competition in the squad will be fierce, but the reality is that a number of these big-name players may well fall by the wayside over the next eight months.
As Seabelo Senatla quite rightly pointed out from personal experience, making the transition from 15s to sevens rugby is a considerable challenge. The pace, space and intensity of the game demands very different requirements, particularly from a conditioning and defensive point of view.
It’s part of the reason why experienced members of the sevens circuit remain in prime position to book their places to Rio, with incoming 15s players having everything to prove if they are to make the final cut.
Nevertheless, the combining of forces between sevens and 15s, and the competition for places, can only be good for the game. A player such as Hougaard also looks ideally suited to the sevens circuit, and it could be just what he needs to revitalise his game.
The same could be said for Ryan Kankowski, who has also committed himself to the sevens cause, and will add some extra size and physicality to the Blitzboks squad.
And with some careful man management, 15s players are surely set to benefit from the skills, attack and conditioning work that is a priority on the sevens circuit, while also serving to raise the profile of a sport that has been described as rugby’s version of T20 cricket.
On a final note, the agreement reached between South Africa’s franchises and Saru to make the 15s players available is also an important step in fostering a spirit of cooperation that sees the national cause put first. In that, there is a lesson to be learned from a Springbok point of view, where all rugby parties need to work towards ensuring the Bok team is the priority and the best interests of the national side are paramount.
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