Like a war-torn country, the Blitzboks’ World Series campaign looks bombed out and depleted and that’s because the world’s best sevens team – arguably the best in history over the past two seasons – is now having to do without stars that were crucial to their success.
South Africa’s Super Rugby teams are richer for the converted Blitzbokke who are looking to capitalise on their abilities in a more lucrative form of the game.
Kwagga Smith. Seabelo Senatla. Ruhan Nel. Dylan Sage. Rosko Specman. These are the men who are forever (who knows) lost to the sevens game as they attempt to make a mark in 15s. Smith has succeeded with the Lions. Sentala has fired and spluttered, but still proven himself at this level as a box-office attraction for the Stormers and Western Province. Nel found himself on the periphery of Springbok selection after an outstanding campaign in last year’s Currie Cup for WP. And we will find out how Sage and Specman will cope soon enough as the Bulls aim to be relevant again in Super Rugby.
The Blitzboks are easily the best South African product of the past 10 years – an alarming indication of our rugby’s regression into mediocrity – but unfortunately, the money follows the most prestigious competitions, namely Super Rugby, Rugby Championship, World Cup and the premier competitions in Europe.
Naturally, our extraordinary sevens players also have to look out for their own futures, and with the bleeding of talent overseas almost impossible to staunch, opportunities are opening up at Currie Cup, PRO14 and Super Rugby level.
The question is, how will they fair? Tearaway Kwagga is currently injured, and will be a big miss in the early rounds of the competition for a Lions team that benefits from his mobility in the loose trio. He has not exactly registered on the Bok radar and is way behind the pecking order to ‘bolt’ into the reckoning in a World Cup year, but you never know. If that does not happen, overseas offers will pile up after his stint in Japan.
Senatla, an all-time sevens great at just 25, whose strike rate would have seen him go on to probably score a minimum of 350 career tries on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit, is a player followed by huge expectation at the Stormers. He made his first foray during the 2014 season and, while he has not yet established himself in Super Rugby, he has impressed in the Currie Cup.
A memorable season from him, against the big, world-class wingers of the competition will elevate Senatla into the Bok conversation. If that does not happen, what’s to stop a Japanese or French side from snapping up an electrifying entertainer like him for a big payday? He is a complete player, though on the lighter side of the scales.
The most physical of all the acquisitions, Nel can cause Bok selectors a headache if he impresses at outside centre for the Stormers. Last year, I pointed out his impressive physical attributes and I think he will do well in a team of underachieving entertainers. In what will be his Super Rugby debut, the duel between Nel and Bok incumbent Jesse Kriel in the season-opener against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld is a drawcard.
I have not seen enough of Specman and Sage to make any assessment, but it speaks volumes that the former is in the run-on, Bok-laden side for the match against the Stormers, while the latter starts on the bench for a team blessed with quality outside backs.
It is clear to everyone in the know that the players mentioned will be crowd-pleasers because of their skills honed in the shortened version of the game, but there is nowhere to hide in a Super Rugby environment where they will be thoroughly examined technically, physically and psychologically.
How they navigate these tests will determine whether leaving the Blitzboks was a wise move.
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