The inclusion of Springboks Bryan Habana and Ryan Kankowski are two of seven changes in the Springbok Sevens squad of 13 players for the next two rounds of the World Rugby Sevens Series in North America. The popular Las Vegas tournament takes place from 4 to 6 March in the USA and will be followed by the inaugural event in Vancouver, Canada, on 12 and 13 March. Habana was released by his French club side Toulon to play for the Blitzbokke in the next two rounds of the World Series, while Kankowski recently joined the squad on a full time basis, at the conclusion of the Japanese club season.
Apart from the inclusion of the experienced Springbok duo, the squad was further boosted by the return of several other Springbok Sevens stalwarts. Regular skipper Kyle Brown has shrugged off his shoulder injury and takes over the captaincy from Philip Snyman, who himself is sitting out the next two rounds after hurting his shoulder in Sydney. Meanwhile, Cecil Afrika, Branco Du Preez, Justin Geduld as well as the versatile Ruhan Nel all return to the squad as part of the team’s rotational policy.
Afrika (hamstring) and Geduld (shoulder) are fit again after suffering injuries in previous tournaments. Du Preez is picked for the first time this season now that he has successfully completed his rehabilitation programme following a shoulder operation last year. Francois Hougaard has joined English Premiership club Worcester Warriors on a short term contract and is due to return to the squad in time for the last two tournaments in Paris and London.
Carel Du Preez, Sandile Ngcobo, Cheslin Kolbe and Juan De Jongh are the other players who featured in squad that finished second in Wellington and fourth in Sydney respectively. Kolbe and De Jongh have returned to the Stormers franchise for the start of the Super Rugby campaign. SA Sevens coach, Neil Powell says he is excited by the make-up of the squad: ‘Bryan and Ryan bring an extra dimension to the squad. Both are experienced Springboks and they add a lot of other rugby intelligence to our system. Both are eager to learn and I am looking forward to see how they perform in the World Series.’
Powell explained that he will give Kankowski time to recover from a slight knock he suffered in training and that the player will be ready to play in Vancouver. The Springbok Sevens coach was also delighted with the return of his quartet of experienced players, saying: ‘Kyle, Cecil and Branco have each played in more than 35 tournaments while Justin has played in over 20 events. They add a lot of experience and we are extremely happy to have them back in the squad.’ South Africa will face Canada, Wales and tournament hosts the United States, in the pool stage in Las Vegas.
The Springbok Sevens squad for Las Vegas and Vancouver (with World Series tournament in brackets):
Chris Dry (48 World Series caps)
Dylan Sage (3)
Tim Agaba (1)
Kwagga Smith (19)
Bryan Habana (2)
Kyle Brown (captain, 50)
Branco Du Preez (41)
Rosko Specman (9)
Justin Geduld (21)
Cecil Afrika (39)
Seabelo Senatla (23)
Ruhan Nel (6)
Ryan Kankowski (4)