Playmaker Malcolm Jaer is determined to make a good impression for the Blitzboks in the looming World Rugby Sevens Series in order to be in contention for Olympic selection.
Initially Jaer played for the Kings, followed by a stint for the Cheetahs from 2017 up until now. He made 18 PRO14 appearances for the Bloemfontein-based team, but has had a tough time breaking into the Cheetahs team both during their successful 2019 Currie Cup campaign and in the current PRO14 tournament.
This prompted a move back to the South African Sevens Academy in Stellenbosch in a bid to contend for selection for the Blitzboks’ 12-man squad for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
Despite playing for teams that have been horribly shown up in the PRO14, Jaer’s dazzling footwork has earned a him a reputation as one of the most elusive broken-field runners. That makes he has the potential to be a sensation in the abbreviated form of the game.
And with the Olympics looming large, the 24-year-old is eager to be just that.
‘I used to be in the sevens set-up briefly in 2016. After that I always had a dream and a vision to come back and come into contention for selection in the Olympic squad next year. When I was here the last time, my goal was to be in the Olympic squad, but it wasn’t to be. Now I had the perfect opportunity to a part be of the squad,’ Jaer said.
Jaer points out that while he initially struggled with the transition, he is settling in nicely and finding his feet in sevens again.
‘It’s difficult joining a new team environment even if you had been in the set-up previously. In fifteens, you didn’t have a lot of space to work with, so to come back here it’s all about defending and attacking space. Sevens is not about the individual, it’s about the system and the team. I can tell you now, when I joined the team on 4 November, the training sessions were tough.’
Jaer admits the guidance from Cecil Afrika has often been his saving grace over the past month since linking up with the team in Stellenbosch.
‘Cecil is the one guy who has helped me more than anyone else. We’ve known each other for a long time because I’m from Uitenhage and he is from Missionvale in Port Elizabeth, that’s just 21km apart. He is like an overprotective older brother and it’s kind of cute,’ he jokes.
‘But seriously, though, when I struggle with details or calls or even my positioning during training, he’d come up to me and patiently explain what my role is or what line I was supposed to run. He’ll always take out his own time to help me and the other newcomers to to get things right and make us better,’ Jaer said, echoing the sentiments of Hacjivah Dayimani, who is also a rookie in the sevens environment.
Both Jaer and Dayimani, though, have to wait a while longer before making their Blitzboks debuts as they’ve been included in the Sevens Academy squad for this weekend’s international invitational tournament in Dubai. They will play alongside veterans Afrika, Werner Kok and Branco du Preez, as well as the likes of Dewald Human, James Murphy, Impi Visser and Stedman Gans, all of whom missed out on selection in the Blitzboks squad for the Dubai Sevens.
‘Most of them came through the Sevens Academy programme before playing on the World Sevens Series circuit, so it is going to help having them all around. Hearing their voices from the sideline telling you what to do and where to position yourself will have a calming effect when the nerves threaten to overwhelm me. It will really help knowing there are guys all around you can trust and will always have your back,’ Jaer explained.
Jaer also speaks openly about the differences he has experienced in terms of team culture at both the Cheetahs and Kings compared to sevens.
‘In fifteens there is always division, there are cliques that hang out together, like this is your juniors and this is your seniors, for example. So when I got here the first time [in 2016] I was surprised that there was no such thing as individual groups. And that is still the case; everyone is equal.
‘When there are bags or water bottles or equipment to be carried, the responsibility doesn’t automatically fall on the least-experienced or most-junior players. Cecil, Werner, Branco, Ruhan, Shakes, would be first to do those sort of things. And it might seem insignificant, but those little things make you feel like you belong and that you are one of them. And that is why the Blitzboks are successful. They’re a unit and work together well. Unity plays a big part in success. Everyone is equal here.’
Photo: Huw Evans/Agency/Gallo Images