Like every South African boy who has ever thrown a pass in the heat of battle, Seabelo Senatla, Kwagga Smith and Tim Agaba dream of playing for the Springboks.
While Provincial representation, Super Rugby selection and even a call-up from the Blitzboks are cherishable achievements, they’re never more than stepping stones to the Green and Gold jersey in a player’s career plans.
However, there aren’t enough slots for everyone to realise their dream, and the fear is that players like Senatla, Smith and Agaba – who have chosen to continue trying to prove themselves as stalwarts of the 15-man game instead of travelling with the Blitzboks to the Commonwealth Games – are risking their status as (at least in Senatla’s case) Sevens legends for the chance to earn a handful of Test caps.
Senatla, already SA’s top try-scorer in the shorter format, has been playing non-stop, without an off-season, for the past three years. No wonder he struggles with injuries every year. He also struggles with form.
Without the space available in Sevens, Senatla’s penchant for off-loading in the tackle just hasn’t translated to fifteens. In Sevens you can get away with a 50-50 offload more often than not, because fewer players are there to swarm the loose ball. In fifteens, an unclaimed offload usually leads to a turnover.
And while his searing pace and finishing skills still produce the occasional try for the Stormers, you have to wonder at what price?
Unfortunately for Senatla, fifteens is geared towards the macro player. There’s a reason Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane and Taqele Naiyaravoro aren’t playing as forwards. Metres get made out wide, and more metres are made when bigger players run at smaller ones.
Tim Agaba has only featured in one game for the Bulls, a lonely outing at No 8 against the Crusaders in Christchruch. He played all 80 minutes, but made no impact whatsoever. Carrying the ball only twice and producing one dominant hit in 12 tackles.
Kwagga Smith, for all his heroics in an exhibition game against the All Blacks last year, has also been mediocre. The loose forward was tied for the most missed tackles in Super Rugby after seven rounds. Of his 73 tackles, only four have been dominant. Compare that to Springbok incumbent Siya Kolisi, who has 11 dominant hits in 60 tackles.
Senatla, Smith and Agaba must choose between the formats because playing rugby all year round isn’t good for the body and, at the moment, none of the three Sevens standouts are lighting up the fifteens scene.
There’s a reason why they were first drafted into the Sevens set-up. Sometimes it’s better to stick to your craft.
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