Having decided to join the SA Sevens Academy in 2020, former Junior Springbok flyhalf Lubabalo Dobela is thrilled to have earned a place with the Blitzboks for the upcoming Singapore Sevens, reports DYLAN JACK.
The former Cheetahs player is the only newcomer in the squad named by Blitzbok coach Neil Powell, who made three changes to the side that were triumphant in Seville at the end of January. Dobela will replace Justin Geduld after the veteran playmaker picked up a knee injury in that tournament.
“I am quite excited about it,” the 23-year-old told SARugbymag.co.za when asked about his debut. “But at the same time I want to stay calm so that I can actually enjoy the moment and not let my emotions get the better of me.”
Dobela, who turns 24 in May, joined the Free State Cheetahs after matriculating from Grey High in Port Elizabeth. In 2018, he represented the Baby Boks in France alongside Wandisile Simelane, Tyrone Green, Zak Burger, Salmaan Moerat and Ruan Nortje.
But, Dobela found regular game time hard to come with the Cheetahs, and it was while playing in the Varsity Cup for the University of the Free State’s Shimlas where he caught the eye of Springbok Sevens High Performance manager Marius Schoeman.
“Marius Schoeman first texted me after I played against Maties in 2019. That’s when the interest started and I was thinking about it. In that year, my contract with the Cheetahs was ending,” Dobela explained.
After parting way with the Cheetahs, Dobela returned home to the Eastern Cape and spoke with his father David, a former Stormers assistant coach and Border head coach, and they decided that he would make the switch to sevens.
“We gave it some good thought, and we just thought that [playing sevens] could benefit me as well. It will help me become a holistic player as well. This is a great system and a great environment,” Dobela said. “It’s quite a lot of fun when you are off the field with the guys, but it’s very hard work on the field as well, but still with the same amount of hype.”
Dobela initially took some time to adjust to the intensity and high standards at the sevens academy in Stellenbosch: “It was very tough. You find yourself so sore from the previous day’s training. The senior guys know how to navigate the system, so they tell you to recover when you can. That’s the main thing, to make yourself ready for the next day.
“It took quite a bit of sacrifice to stay competitive. When you get to the field, everything is harder. The guys make it harder on purpose. So yeah, it was very tough when I arrived.”
“Even the fundamentals were pretty tough,” he added. “But like I said, the senior guys here are willing to help you and the coaches themselves are willing to coach you individually on the little things. That helped, but that doesn’t mean it came easily or quickly.
“I had to adjust as well. You have to work with a lot of analysis, there’s a lot that comes into sevens that people might not know about.”
Dobela, though, hasn’t turned his back on achieving higher honours in the 15s format. “It’s not a matter of letting go of anything. When you come here, you are bettering yourself in more ways than just one,” he said.
“Yes, I wanted to come here and play, but I also wanted to better myself in more ways than just a player. So it’s not a case of letting go of any dreams. I am still a flyhalf here as well.”
“I definitely enjoy the vibe,” he added. “There are parts of the game that you enjoy in terms of having more space, but I think it’s the vibe. When times are tough, there are guys next to you who are cheering you on and when you are struggling, there are guys pushing you forward.”
Blitzbok captain Siviwe Soyizwapi has no doubt that Dobela will impress in Singapore next weekend. “He is really such a fantastic human being and such a great player. He fitted into the system seamlessly,” Soyizwapi said.
“He is a natural rugby player. He was a flyhalf in fifteens and plays the same role in the sevens game as well. So I think that really helped him. He is a fast learner and is really intelligent. I think he can really steer the team in terms of his position specifically. That’s what’s required from your playmaker.
“I think his learning curve was great. He is good to be with in the team, he is fun and brings a lot of energy. He is young, but loves to learn. As a player, he is quite complete in terms of his game. He is good on defence and great on attack. I am really happy for him and am excited to see what he can do on the highest level.”
Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images