You can understand why Dylan Sage very quickly revealed that he has signed a two-year contract to play for the Springbok Sevens when asked about 15-man rugby.
Two of his teammates, Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith, will be returning to the traditional format of the game at the conclusion of the Cape Town Sevens this weekend when they join the Stormers and Lions respectively for Super Rugby.
Sage, a born and bred Capetonian, had a tough time of it in 15s before making his Blitzbok debut in December last year. He wasn’t picked for the Western Province Craven Week team after coming through at Wynberg Boys as an outside centre, and he played a handful of WP Under-21 games.
UCT came calling in the Varsity Cup, but his big break came when he was an injury replacement for Werner Kok for last year’s Cape Town Sevens. After initially battling with the pace of the game, Sage has adapted well and is now a powerful ball-carrier and dominant defender for the Springbok Sevens.
“I have just signed with the sevens for the next two years. So I will be a sevens man for at least the rest of the circuit. We wish Seabelo and Kwagga all the best in their 15s journey. But I will be sticking to the sevens for now,” the 24-year-old said on Tuesday after the Blitzboks’ first practice of the week at the Green Point Track.
“Sevens has a much higher conditioning threshold than 15s. I was lucky as I came in on the first day of pre-season last year, so I had a good three-and-a-half months to get my conditioning to where it needs to be. The first two or three tournaments… I did struggle still, as it does take a while to get used to the speed and conditioning. But it’s all just time, working harder and just really knuckling down and trying to do the best you can, especially with conditioning.”
His younger brother Jarryd, also a centre, has moved to Johannesburg after playing his youth rugby for WP, and was the Lions’ Under-21 captain last season.
But for Dylan, the sevens landscape is providing him with the necessary opportunities. Now a fixture in the tournament squads, he hopes to crack the starting line-up more regularly, starting with his home tournament at the Cape Town Stadium this weekend.
The Blitzboks take on Russia (12.49pm), USA (4.10pm) and Australia (7.56pm) in Pool A on Saturday. “It’s very tight for starting positions, but it’s always good to have internal competition – it betters everyone around the team and the squad. If we can keep the internal competition and the guys can play at their best, it can be a successful year,” Sage said.
“It has been quite a roller-coaster year, starting in Cape Town. But it went really well – I feel like I have progressed in every tournament, and going to the Olympics was the cherry on top of the cake. Last year was my first tournament, which is always a tough one because you are sort of engrossed by the atmosphere of the whole thing. I have played in a few tournaments now, as well as at the Olympics, and I feel like I am a lot more calm… get on to the field and do my thing.”
The Blitzboks may have added to the already considerable expectations in Cape Town this week to defend their title after winning the Dubai Cup. It is in contrast to 2015, when they lost in the Dubai quarter-finals.
With tickets already sold out on both days at the 55 000-capacity Cape Town Stadium, it is sure to be a thrilling atmosphere over the two days of competition. But Sage says his team won’t be overawed by the occasion. “We’ve got to embrace it. It’s always a good pressure – it’s a home tournament. Whether we won in Dubai or not, there’s always pressure to do well in Cape Town.
“It’s just about starting all over again, sticking to our processes and taking that confidence and momentum we got from Dubai – we played really good rugby – and bringing it to Cape Town. But we want to start over again and make sure we tick off all the boxes before Saturday.”