With the prospect of Olympic qualification as a major incentive to aim for, the Springbok Sevens have started with preparations for the new season after a three-week break following their gold medal success at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Apart from their gold medal performance in Scotland, the team also managed to finish second on the HSBC Sevens World Series log. The top four teams on the final log table of the 2014/15 World Series will qualify automatically for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
The team underwent their customary medical examinations on Monday and also had to go through a series of fitness and conditioning tests. This was followed by a tough gym session. A few regulars will join the team at a much later stage due to Absa Currie Cup commitments, while some will be eased back gradually into full training following surgery and rehabilitation to recover from injuries.
Top-try scorer Seabelo Senatla is presently playing for Western Province in the Currie Cup Premier Division while Kwagga Smith represents the Xerox Golden Lions in the same competition. Justin Geduld, who established himself as a first team regular last season with a number of eye-catching performances, is part of the DHL WP Under-21 Currie Cup squad. Stephan Dippenaar, who suffered a knee injury in Scotland, and Philip Snyman (shoulder surgery), meanwhile, have completed their respective rehabilitation programmes and will be eased back into training.
The aim is to get them fully fit and available for selection for the start of the World Series campaign in October at the Gold Coast in Australia. Team captain Kyle Brown underwent an operation to repair damage to a dislocated shoulder which he suffered against New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games final. He is currently undergoing rehabilitation and is expected to return to full fitness around the third week of November, in time for the Dubai Sevens (6 – 7 December).
Neil Powell, the Springbok Sevens coach, can look back at a successful first season in charge during which he steered the team to two World Series tournament wins, five Cup final appearances, a second place overall finish on the World Series log and gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Powell said the prospect of Olympic qualification was exciting but he admitted that it would make the World Series a more challenging competition, “Everything points to a very tough and demanding season.” Whilst his team managed to play an attacking style of rugby last season, which resulted in many spectacular tries, Powell said they had to show an improvement on defence, “We made good strides last season, but we have identified some areas where we would really like to see a bigger improvement. One of those areas is our defence, while another key focus is to maintain a good level of consistency. Last season we managed to string together a good run (resulting in five Cup Finals). However, we lost a bit of our steam during the last three tournaments, which was disappointing. With Olympic qualification now as a major incentive, we know we must sustain a high level of concentration at each tournament.”
For the next two weeks the players will focus mainly on their conditioning, after which they will enjoy a week off. On their return to training, they will spend the following three weeks fine-tuning their preparations for the season opener at the Gold Coast.
Photo credit: Wessel Oosthuizen