Blitzboks star Werner Kok says receiving the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Award was beyond his wildest expectations, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Kok was honoured at a star-studded World Rugby awards ceremony in London on Sunday evening, ahead of his teammate Seabelo Senatla and Fijian Semi Kunatani.
‘It was quite intimidating to be there among all the big names of world rugby,’ Kok told SARugbymag.co.za from London on Monday. ‘To receive the award was just such an honour, and a real bonus. Seabelo and Semi were such worthy candidates, and the award really could have gone to any one of us, so it was just really special.’
The 22-year-old became the second South African to win the award after compatriot Cecil Afrika in 2011.
‘It’s something I never really expected, it’s an award that Cecil has won before, and for which Kyle Brown was nominated last year. To be seen in that sort company is very humbling. But really the hard work just starts now, it does obviously put a target on my back, so I’ll have to improve even more going forward.’
Kok proved to be an influential figure during the Blitzboks’ 2014-15 World Series campaign, which saw the side clinch second place on the log and earn automatic qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
‘All the little bits of work behind the scenes have obviously helped get me to this point, but the biggest contributors have been my rugby family back home,’ he commented. ‘Nothing would have been possible without [Blitzboks coach] Neil Powell, and [SA Sevens Academy manager] Marius Schoeman, who spotted me at the Craven Week Sevens and have believed in me ever since. Then obviously all my teammates have also played a big part in my career and pushed me to get better and better as a rugby player.’
Kok made his international debut at the London Sevens in 2013 and has since played in 18 World Series tournaments, while he was also a member of the successful South African team that won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The 2015-16 World Series will kick off on 4 December in Dubai, with the 10-tournament series set to serve as crucial preparation before the Rio games.
‘There’s a very exciting time ahead of us as a team, and we’re really looking forward to the season ahead,’ Kok said. ‘It’s going to be a big challenge with 10 tournaments, and then although Rio is quite some way away, it will come around quickly. Obviously I’d love to be part of that squad, but there’s lots of work to be done before then.’
Photo: Dan Mullan/World Rugby