CAPE TOWN – Considering all the hurdles that the Springbok Sevens team have had to contend with, it will already be a commendable feat if they are competitive at the Tokyo Olympics, let alone win a medal.
But captain Siviwe ‘Shakes’ Soyizwapi believes that the Blitzboks’ mental strength will stand them in good stead when they face Ireland (4am SA time) and Kenya (12pm) on Monday, followed by the United States on Tuesday (4.30am).
The South Africans have had a nightmare experience since arriving in Japan. They had to be split into two groups following coach Neil Powell’s positive Covid-19 test result, which saw him remain in isolation in Kagoshima, where the team held their pre-tournament camp.
Some of the squad members are able to stay in the Olympic Village, and those who travelled with Powell from Tokyo to Kagoshima have had to live in nearby hotels.
That has made planning and training problematic over the last two weeks, and they were unable to practice together on Saturday as well after being told to remain in their two groups.
“It was another day of difficulties and challenges. As I said to the boys, they’ll keep coming – the challenges won’t stop. The one thing we are focusing on is the unity, even if we don’t stay in the same village or in the same hotel – it doesn’t matter. If we stay unified, we will be ready by Monday,” Soyizwapi said from Tokyo.
“Another thing I mentioned is that if we couldn’t overcome… or if we would’ve been broken, that would’ve happened by now. So, that’s how mentally strong these guys are – my brothers, my teammates.
“I think this game of sevens has actually contributed immensely to our personal lives, and spiritually, mentally, physically, we’ve actually developed really well. And I think all the years, each and every player that has been on this field, it has contributed to the challenges that we face here in Tokyo.”
Assistant coach Renfred Dazel – who has taken charge on the pitch in Powell’s physical absence – and was confident that the South Africans are mentally and physically equipped for Monday’s matches.
“We are as well prepared as we could be, despite all the circumstances since we arrived in Japan,” the former Blitzbok star said.
“We had limited sessions on the field, only managing two sessions in Kagoshima and two here in Tokyo, but we did good work in our virtual sessions as well.
“The virtual sessions helped us with our focus, and we are not looking past the first game against Ireland. We have a specific plan against them, and hope to implement that and get the result. We have done our homework, and now it is a matter of applying that.”
But it will be an uphill battle to improve on the bronze medal won at Rio 2016, where the squad included 15s stars such as Cheslin Kolbe, Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh, as well as sevens veteran Cecil Afrika.
The only survivor from that group is Justin Geduld, with Chris Dry having been an unused non-playing travelling reserve.
Chris Dry, Sako Makata, Impi Visser, Zain Davids, Angelo Davids, JC Pretorius, Branco du Preez, Selvyn Davids, Justin Geduld, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain), Stedman Gans, Ronald Brown. Travelling reserve: Ruhan Nel.
Monday 26 July: SA v Ireland (4am), SA v Kenya (12pm).
Tuesday 27 July: SA v United States (4.30am), Quarter-finals: 10.30am, 11am, 11.30am, 12pm.
Wednesday 28 July: Semi-final 1 (4am), Semi-final 2 (4.30am), Final: 11am.