Vodacom Super Rugby and the Currie Cup may have refreshed and improved Dylan Sage as a rugby player, but the Blitzbok forward admits it was still tough to get back in the green and gold and start playing sevens again.
Sage last played for South Africa in June 2018, when the Blitzboks nailed their second HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series win by beating England in the final in France.
‘In a way, it was a new start for me playing sevens again, not that I minded, but the dynamics are different and challenging,’ said Sage. ‘My body has been sore for a couple of weeks, but I really enjoyed being back.’
The 27-year-old will return to the Bulls and Super Rugby early next year with renewed respect for his Springbok Sevens teammates, having spent the last couple of months preparing for the Dubai and Cape Town legs of the World Sevens Series.
Sage has a clear idea of what is expected of him in the opening two tournaments.
‘It is a pretty process-driven system in which each individual has roles and responsibilities, so mine will be to make sure I do my bit. On a personal level, I would like to stay fit and injury free and enjoy myself within the team structure,’ added Sage, after the Blitzboks had their first field session since arriving in Dubai on Sunday morning.
The Olympic Games in Japan next year is another clear objective for him, although it is not part of his focus right now.
‘I dreamt of playing in the Olympics, so to be in line to get selected for a second one is even better. For now, the most important is what happens this weekend, though,’ said Sage.
Fellow fifteens convert Ruhan Nel said the return to sevens was tough for him as well, but he found the squad more experienced when he returned.
‘A number of the guys left with me way back then and that allowed the youngsters in the system to get a proper run and gain experience,’ said Nel. ‘So, it was clear that those guys had benefited from playing.
‘We have a very competitive squad and one only needs to look at some of the names in the [SA Rugby] Academy squad to realise how much depth has been developed by coach Neil Powell.’
With 49 tries in 147 matches in the Blitzbok jersey, Nel could reach two big milestones this weekend. However, for the outside back, those are not important.
‘The danger will be to try and prove yourself again, which will have a negative impact on the team,’ said Nel.
‘Your contributions as a team player, rather than the individual self, is of far greater importance this weekend and I will not looking beyond that.’