Rosko Specman on being nominated for the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award, his role for the Blitzboks, his goals for this year, and his dancing skills.
How did you find out you had been nominated for the 2017 World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year award?
I was at home when I started getting messages from family and friends. I then saw the shortlist on social media. I didn’t expect to be nominated, but it felt like just reward for all my hard work. I didn’t win the award [it went to the USA’s Perry Baker], but my nomination is a reflection of the Blitzboks’ world-class system, which allows this country to continuously produce top-class players. Werries [Werner Kok] and Sea [Seabelo Senatla] have obviously won the award before [in 2015 and ’16, respectively].
Do the Blitzboks take great pride in personal accolades?
Always. Personal recognition is great. As a family, we revel when one of our own excels. In moments like that, they don’t just represent themselves, but all of us. The worldwide recognition is good, but as teammates we even celebrate small, personal milestones people outside our group don’t know about.
To what do you attribute the success you enjoyed during the 2016-17 season?
The desire to be a better player, to do better at every tournament than I did at the previous one. After my ankle injury in 2014 I wanted to come back stronger and perform well consistently to make myself indispensable. I had been in and out of the team, but finally feel like I’ve earned my keep in this team packed with superstars.
Do you sometimes doubt yourself?
Doubts still creep in, but not in a bad way, like in the past. There was a point in my life when I told myself I just wasn’t good enough and contemplated giving up. I was fighting a battle with myself because I was impatient. When I eventually got opportunities to play regularly, everything fell into place.
How would you define your role in the team?
I’ve been part of the set-up for a while and am now a senior squad member. Depending on the opposition or situation, I can play flyhalf, sweeper or wing. But even if you specialise in one position, you have to be able to adapt and improvise on the field.
What do you want to improve on this season?
I definitely want to score more tries. I only scored something like 20 last season. As an attacking player, creating and scoring tries is my main purpose, but, ideally, I’d like to be more competitive on the ground. Our breakdown work is paramount to our success and I want to contribute more there. From a team perspective, we know the other teams have improved and we can’t afford to rest on our laurels and be caught up in the euphoria of last season.
You missed out on the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Is earning selection for the 2018 Games in April your big goal this season?
I’d love the opportunity to be part of the team’s title defence. The youngsters are pushing hard for selection, so I know I will have to replicate my form of last season to be in contention for a spot in the squad. But there’s also the World Cup in July and the defence of our Sevens Series title, and I want to be involved in all three competitions. The ultimate goal is to return home with three gold medals in 2018.
What are the differences between playing in the Sevens Series and the Olympic Games?
There’s far more pressure at a one-off tournament. There’s no second chance. If you fail to produce your best in one match, you’re as good as done. On the circuit, there’s always another match and tournament in which you can make up lost ground. In terms of the atmosphere, there’s a sense of a greater goal when you are surrounded by teammates from other sporting codes. And when you underperform, it feels like you’ve let those people down.
In your opinion, why was the team so successful last season?
It hurt when Fiji beat us to the series title in the 2015-16 season. That was the motivation behind our excellent start to the last campaign, and starting so strongly put us in an advantageous position. We were ahead of the pack throughout the series. Some results didn’t go our way, but for the best part of the campaign, we played to our full potential.
Talk us through that wonderful solo try against New Zealand at the Cape Town Sevens in 2016.
Oh, that easy one [laughs]? Part of our plan is that when the opposition hooker is slow to put our playmaker under pressure, we attack from the back immediately. In that moment, DJ Forbes had just turned his shoulder and Werries spotted that and communicated it to me as he passed the ball to me. I knew I had to run at Forbes’ channel and when I was through that gap I saw their sweeper wasn’t in a good position and I just backed myself to go all the way.
What’s your relationship like with coach Neil Powell?
We have an excellent relationship. He is a great coach and an even greater person, which is the most important thing. At any given time, we can walk into his office to ask for help or advice. He values it when we place our trust in him, especially with personal issues. A lot of coaches and people we meet have said they’d help any time, but he goes above and beyond to support everyone around him. He is the best coach I’ve worked with.
You played for the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup and Pro14 during the sevens off-season. Was it difficult to make that adjustment and would you like to continue playing fifteens?
It took me a few games to get used to fifteens rugby again. I really enjoyed my time at the Cheetahs. When my agent told me there was an opportunity to play for them in the Currie Cup and Pro14, I grabbed it with both hands, as I want to see how far I can go in fifteens rugby. Sevens is my priority, but as a rugby player, you want to give yourself the chance to see how well you can do in both codes.
What are your interests outside of rugby?
I’m a devout Christian, so I spend a lot of time reading the Bible. I know now that the Almighty always provides. I know first-hand that you can achieve great things when you have faith. When socialising, I prefer to hang out with family and friends around a braai. And I sleep a lot.
Word has it you’re quite a good dancer, too?
[Laughs] Not to brag or anything, but yes, I am! I was part of a street-dance crew when I was in high school. I still enjoy dancing as much; it’s a form of expression and a great stress reliever. I’ve got a few moves that’ll put Chris Brown to shame.
Interview by Mariette Adams