The decision to rush Jordan Hendrikse into the squad for this weekend’s London Sevens highlights the muddled thinking that has underpinned the Blitzboks’ underperformance in the past three tournaments, writes DYLAN JACK.
Hendrikse was given a surprise call-up to the squad for the penultimate tournament of this season’s Sevens Series, the reasoning being the Blitzboks are struggling for depth at flyhalf as Justin Geduld, Selvyn Davids and Lubabalo Dobela are unavailable through injury.
The 20-year-old is supremely talented, that is without question. His rapid rise through the Lions ranks has made him the team’s first-choice flyhalf following Elton Jantjies’ departure to Japan. In his first full season, he scored 117 points in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship. Ever so brave, Hendrikse relishes contact situations and has no qualms about breakdown contests, when called upon to do so.
But this is not about Hendrikse’s talent. If given the correct amount of time to prepare, there’s no doubt he would be able to help the Blitzboks turn their poor run of form around. It’s difficult to see him doing that this weekend, having been rushed into an injury-hit, underperforming team clearly low on confidence.
In Neil Powell’s own words, the Blitzboks turned in the worst performance of his tenure during the recent France Sevens, where they suffered a first-ever loss to Ireland, failed to escape their pool for the first time since 2013 and were soundly beaten in the ninth-place semi-finals by Scotland.
It has been a rather rapid descent for the side that won four tournaments in a row in Dubai and Spain and were on one of the longest unbeaten runs in sevens history.
Recent reports have suggested that the Blitzbok camp is less than harmonious, due to an uncertainty over which players’ contracts will be extended for next season. SA Rugby this year has placed the Blitzboks below the Springbok Women in terms of priorities as they target a stronger showing at the next Women’s World Cup in 2025.
Even disregarding the issues behind the scenes, one has to question the decision to rush Hendrikse into the squad, given his lack of top-flight sevens experience. While there is something for him to gain in terms of being part of an international set-up, it’s a big ask for him to quickly gel and learn the systems of a team he has never trained with.
In addition, the conditioning to play at a sevens tournament is on another level. Even the players who used to jump regularly between the two codes – the likes of Ruhan Nel, Werner Kok and Kwagga Smith – would have to recondition themselves to play the shorter, quicker version of the game.
The Blitzboks are big on earning your stripes. I asked Powell about another fifteens convert, Dobela, when the playmaker was named in the squad for the Singapore Sevens. He highlighted the former Cheetah had spent a couple of years in the SA Sevens Academy before earning his debut, which sadly ended in injury.
Dobela is a player who was targeted by the Blitzboks as someone who could be a long-term playmaker for the team, having been cast out by the Cheetahs.
Hendrikse’s call-up doesn’t seem to have been done with the same type of thinking.
Hendrikse himself has recently admitted that playing for the Springboks remains his ultimate, long-term goal which makes it strange that he was favoured ahead of someone in the Sevens Academy.
One hopes that the pressure to turn things around isn’t placed on Hendrikse’s young shoulders. It’s not fair to expect him to suddenly come in to create opportunities for a team so evidently lacking an out-and-out paceman in the mould of Seabelo Senatla or Rosko Specman.
If Powell was looking for a sevens playmaker, why not turn to Devon Williams, who has been performing said role excellently for the Pumas over the past few years? Williams has also spent time in the Sevens Academy and he would understand the expectations.
SA Rugby has a supreme talent on their hands. This is a player who definitely has the skills and potential to succeed Handre Pollard. However, he needs to be carefully managed if he is to realise that potential.
This isn’t about denying Hendrikse opportunities for growth. It’s about making sure that his opportunities come with his best interests – and the team’s – at heart.
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