Kyle Brown is undoubtedly one of the finest Springbok Sevens captains in history.
Despite battling with injury last season, he came back to play some of the best rugby of his career, and was probably the No 1 Blitzbok at the Rio Olympics in terms of performance.
But the South Africans couldn’t quite get over the line in a number of tournaments, and ended up going home with a bronze medal in August. They finished second in the World Series too, behind champions and Olympic gold medallists Fiji.
Yet it was still a surprise that Brown stepped down from the captaincy last week ahead of the Dubai Sevens, which starts on Friday, with Philip Snyman taking over, having led the side whenever Brown was absent last season.
But the permanency of the decision may be just what the Blitzboks need in the 2016-17 World Series. They won just one tournament, the Cape Town Sevens, during the 10-tournament league, but ended runners-up on no less than three occasions – Wellington, Vancouver and London.
They finished 10 points behind Fiji on the overall log, and those second-places amount to nine. Who knows, maybe the confidence from winning in New Zealand and Canada could’ve translated into further tournament victories…
Brown said Thursday in Dubai that rejuvenation was good in sevens rugby. “I think it was the right time (to step down, and we have spoken for quite a while now. Five years is quite a long time, and I will throw everything I have at the next couple of tournaments, and we will reassess after that,” he said.
“The Olympics was quite a while ago. We’re incredibly lucky to have the consistency in the squad this year, but there are pros and cons to that. One of the major possible pitfalls going into a new season with so many players who have been doing this for a while now is the allure of complacency, where you think we have been together and we should be great, and it’s not the case at all.
“In sevens, sometimes a change is as good as a holiday, and that’s what teams are doing by bringing in new players and bring something completely different. We need to be up there for the war every time we play.”
Snyman also expressed the team’s frustration around coming so close to winning the series title, adding that the leadership group would assist him to take the Blitzboks forward.
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill, with the likes of Kyle Brown. Luckily, Kyle and Cecil Afrika are still next to me and play a big part in the leadership group. But it’s also about developing that next leaders in the team who need to take the system forward,” he said.
“We’ve been working really hard in the pre-season ahead of the first tournament in Dubai. There are one or two things that we want to change – maybe from the kickoff, not to be too predictable.
“We’re tired of finishing second overall, and last season, we came up short a couple of times. We were consistent, but didn’t finish the tournament when it counted. So, we want to change that this season, and hopefully we can put one or two wins behind our name this year. It’s a great ambition to win the World Series, and it may be the only chance for one or two guys to win it this season.”
The Blitzboks would want to produce a stronger showing in Dubai compared to last season, where they crashed out in the Cup quarter-finals.
They’ve been drawn in Pool B, and will face Uganda (8.06am SA time), Scotland (11.06am) and USA (3.06pm) on Friday.
Chris Dry, Philip Snyman (captain), Dylan Sage, Kwagga Smith, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Cecil Afrika, Ruhan Nel, Seabelo Senatla. Reserve: Siviwe Soyizwapi.