While the focus will be on the Blitzboks at the Dubai Sevens this weekend, there will be another South African side in the Emirates in the shape of the SA Academy side.
Coached by former Blitzbok captain Paul Delport, they will compete in an International Invitational tournament on Friday and Saturday alongside the main event in Dubai, and Delport says that the 12-man group is part of developing future Olympians ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Games, as well as 15-man Springboks.
In recent years, Francois Hougaard, Juan de Jongh and even Bryan Habana have turned out for the Blitzboks to sharpen their skills, with Hougaard and De Jongh making it to the Rio Olympics.
There has already been some change in the Blitzbok squad, with Philip Snyman taking over the captaincy from Kyle Brown, while many of the stalwarts such the two players mentioned, as well as the likes of Cecil Afrika, Chris Dry and Rosco Specman will be over 30 by the time the Tokyo Olympics comes around.
So there will be some fresh blood required over the next few years, which sees SA Under-20 star loose forward Zain Davids of Western Province included in the Academy squad.
Davids is an explosive runner with ball-in-hand, and was one of the stand-out performers at this year’s World Under-20 Championship in England, where the Junior Boks lost to the hosts in the semi-finals and ended fourth in the tournament.
The former Rondebosch Boys High pupil, who also came through the Primrose Rugby Club structures, had to be content with playing for the WP Under-19s this year, but could get an opportunity at a higher level if he develops his defence in particular in sevens.
“Many of the unions see the value of sevens, and Rudolf Straeuli said that it helped players like Warren Whiteley and Kwagga Smith to become better 15-man players,” Blitzbok coach Neil Powell said.
“We are also working with Robbie Fleck, as he is also a big supporter of what sevens can do to improve 15-man players. We try to get him in at times during the off-season to do one or two of the sessions, especially when it comes to the breakdowns. They feel that sevens can make a big contribution.
“And the way the Cheetahs are playing, there’s a big focus on developing sevens skills. Now we see the young guys who have sort of been labelled as future Springboks are coming through the systems.”
Another SA Under-20 player in the Academy squad is centre Stedman Gans, who hails from Vredenburg on the West Coast, but plays for the Bulls, while EP Kings speedster Malcolm Jaer is someone who could become a hit in sevens.
“You will see and hear a lot about these guys going forward. Our biggest goal is to broaden the player pool for Neil. I feel sevens is a platform and just makes you a better rugby player. Just improve their individual skills, game sense, their awareness, whatever they’ll take back to their unions, it will just help SA rugby,” Delport said.
“It is a rebuilding phase in the next four-year cycle as we try and find the next batch of potential Olympians and we embrace that. The guys we got in are really the cream of the crop. Our job is to develop the next group of players that can play for the senior team.”
SA Sevens Academy Squad
Ryan Oosthuizen (Western Province), Stephan Dippenaar (SA Rugby, captain), Zain Davids (WP), Robbie Louw (Boland), Impi Visser (Blue Bulls), Wayne van der Bank (Golden Lions), Selvyn Davids (Griffons), Malcolm Jaer (Eastern Province), Diederik Oberholzer (Leopards), Mfundo Ndhlovu (KZN), Joel Booysen (WP), Stedman Gans (Bulls).