Selvyn Davids has been a consistent performer for an inconsistent Blitzboks team this season, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Davids has successfully assumed the Blitzboks’ sweeper role after the abrupt departure of Rosko Specman. At 25, Davids can’t be considered a youngster breaking through the ranks. Rather, he is a late bloomer who didn’t take long to make his presence felt in a star-studded Blitzboks squad.
Since making his debut at the Hong Kong Sevens two years ago, Davids has played 53 matches, scoring 237 points, including 27 tries. Over half of those points have come in the current campaign.
Davids grew up in the surfing town of Jeffreys Bay and was nine years old when introduced to rugby at Pellsrus Primary. It soon became clear he had boundless talent, and after taking advice from his coaches, parents Steven and Nellie decided to enrol their son at Hoërskool Nico Malan in Humansdorp.
Money was tight and the family couldn’t afford for Davids to stay at the hostel, so every morning he embarked on a 22km bus journey to school and then back again in the afternoon.
‘It wasn’t ideal, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter,’ Davids says with a chuckle. ‘I did catch up on a lot of sleep on the bus over the years, though, even though it wasn’t that comfortable to do so while sitting up.’
But it was all worthwhile, as Davids flourished at Nico Malan, becoming the first player to feature in the school’s 1st XV for three years. In his final season he scored a record 408 points for them. He also won provincial honours for Eastern Province across all age groups and went to the U18 Craven Week twice.
However, having been billed as the next big star of EP rugby while at school, Davids’ glittering performances in four Vodacom Cup matches in 2014 were ignored when he was unceremoniously jettisoned by the union.
With no other offers forthcoming, the 20-year-old was looking to enter the workforce, while joining Despatch Rugby Club to keep fit and stay in shape.
‘I hadn’t fully canned the idea of playing professionally, but all I wanted at that point was to earn an income, so looking for a job and staying active at Despatch seemed logical,’ he says.
In the end, he couldn’t find a fulltime job and featured in just five games for Despatch. But this was enough to convince Griffons coach Oersond Gorgonzola that the utility back had something to offer the Welkom-based side.
Playing with newfound belief, the pint-sized Davids repaid Gorgonzola’s faith with one dazzling performance after the other in the Currie Cup Qualifiers and finished as the leading try-scorer with 16 tries in 14 appearances. He was also influential in their successful First Division campaign.
Davids’ big breakthrough came at the Inter-Provincial Sevens tournament in Nelspruit in 2016. With sevens academy scouts Marius Schoeman and Paul Delport in attendance, Davids lit up the two-day event.
‘Things moved quickly,’ he recalls. ‘I was invited to train at the sevens academy and made my debut in Dubai in December 2016. Three months later, I replaced Rosko in the Blitzboks squad for the Hong Kong Sevens.
‘At the beginning, I refused to read too much into it. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to have them crushed later. I told myself the trip to the academy would have the same end result as the time I was in the SA Schools training group in 2012, only to miss out on selection when the final squad was announced.’
When told of Davids’ uncertainty, Gorgonzola laughs and says he knew the fleet-footed player would be a hit in the abbreviated form of the game.
‘It doesn’t surprise me that he settled into the sevens set-up with such ease. Selvyn’s ability to break the line and beat defenders in one-on-one situations is unreal. He hasn’t come close to fulfilling his potential. He has the skill set and agility to thrive, but once he bulks up and has a more dominant physical presence, we’ll see the best of him.’
For now, though, the playmaker is doing the job required of him by Blitzboks coach Neil Powell. After the local Super Rugby franchises lured several of Powell’s chief lieutenants away from the sevens setup, Davids was one of the juniors in the squad who were asked to step up in a big way.
‘It was important for him to make the most of this opportunity, and he did so effortlessly,’ Powell says. ‘His explosiveness and ability to keep defences guessing when he has the ball in hand puts him in the same category as Rosko. He was always going to be the next in line. Admittedly, I was worried that his lack of experience would be an issue, but he – together with Stedman Gans and JC Pretorius – have exceeded my expectations. On many occasions this season they’ve been our best players on the field.
‘I wouldn’t say Selvyn has filled the boots of anyone who has left, but he has taken up his own rightful place in the team,’ Powell adds. ‘It may not have seemed that way in the first four tournaments, but he has settled in well and is starting to understand his role and responsibilities in the team, and that showed in Vancouver.’
It was in this tournament where Davids showed off his full bag of tricks. He was named Man of the Match after the Blizboks’ victory against France in the Cup final, and included in the Team of the Tournament.
One particular piece of magic that he conjured up in Canada will live long in memory.
In the pool game against Wales, Davids was stationed in centre field when he received the ball from Siviwe Soyizwapi. Spotting space in behind the Welsh defence, he hoofed the ball forward. Davids and a Welsh defender reached the ball simultaneously, but the Blitzbok had the presence of mind to put boot to ball again. His faint touch sent it bouncing sideways towards the touchline, but he gave it a soccer-like kick back infield and into the arms of captain Philip Snyman. One phase and three passes later, Pretorius was in for one of the best tries of the season.
While the Blitzboks have struggled for consistency and accuracy this season, Davids has had no such issues. Time and again he has shown up defenders to come up with an exceptional play to spark the Blitzboks back to life.
‘We had seen what he could do when he didn’t have a lot of space, and we knew if he was afforded space he could cause damage,’ says Powell. ‘He is one of those rare players who gives you consistency of performance all the time. You get guys who will be brilliant in one tournament and off their game in the next. But every time we’ve got Selvyn on to the field, whether it’s in a starting position or off the bench, he’s been good for us. And that’s what makes him such an exceptional player, he is almost always great value.
‘When he first joined us, his biggest challenge was to improve his contact skills,’ Powell adds. ‘He had to make tackles and to clean, but he’s showed in the past year or so that he is more than capable of making tackles on the much bigger Fijians and New Zealanders, who are almost double his size.’
There is another side to Davids that also boosts the Blitzboks, according to Snyman.
‘I can’t remember Selvyn saying a word in his first year with us. He was extremely quiet, but as he felt more like part of the team he loosened up a bit. Nowadays, he is one of our biggest jokers. It’s good to have a fun-loving guy like him to break the ice, especially after a tough day at the office. He has developed into a fantastic player and an even greater guy to be around.’
‘Selvyn is quiet and humble. He actually has a great sense of humour when he decides to talk. There’s always something funny coming out of his mouth, and we’ll all have a good laugh. He is one of a kind.’
When asked about his goals ahead of the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, Davids insist he is not looking too far ahead.
‘A lot can happen in 12 months, my stormy time at EP and Despatch is proof of that. My goals are pretty similar to what they were when I first played for the Blitzboks in 2017, and that is to play as much as I can and contribute in the best way possible. The future will take care of itself.’