Cape Town - With just over two months to go to the start of sevens rugby competition at the Rio Olympics, the Blitzboks are set to receive a triple boost in their quest for a gold medal.
The man voted as the best sevens player in the world last season, Werner Kok, will make his return to the field in next weekend’s Roma Sevens in Italy after being out of action for the last six months with a serious knee injury.
Kok has been a central figure in the Springbok Sevens side over the last few years, but after he was hurt in the Dubai Sevens last December, it was feared that he may miss the trip to Brazil in August.
But now Blitzbok coach Neil Powell will be delighted to have the hard-running Kok, who hails from Nelspruit and played Craven Week rugby for the Pumas, back in the mix to solidify a backline and attack that has wavered at times in coming second to Fiji in this season’s World Sevens Series.
And the early Christmas present doesn’t end there for Powell. Exciting Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant has also recovered from a broken jaw that has kept him on the sidelines for the last two months, and will want to make an immediate impression on Powell - who will also travel to Rome - to force his way into the Olympic squad.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee mentioned Gelant as a possible Test No 15 in future over the weekend, and he may even have been included in the national squad for the Irish series if it wasn’t for the Blitzboks’ Olympic campaign.
Gelant, who made his SA Sevens debut in 2014, may bring a physical and skills edge to the Blitzbok squad that was lacking this season.
The last newcomer is veteran Frankie Horne, whose ankle injury kept out of the World Sevens Series. Horne plays as a tighthead prop in the shortened format, and the Blitzboks have battled to replace him this year, which could see him sneak into the Olympic side if he proves that he is back to his best for the SA Sevens Academy side at the Roma Sevens, which takes place on June 10-11.
The likes of Seabelo Senatla, Kwagga Smith, Cheslin Kolbe, Juan de Jongh, Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld, Francois Hougaard and Kyle Brown are eight certainties in the final 12-man squad for the Olympics, so there are probably four places still up for grabs. So, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Kok, Gelant and Horne take three of those spots.
The SA Academy side, who is coached by Marius Schoeman, also includes the likes of Branco du Preez, Stephan Dippenaar and Siviwe Soyizwapi, who will hope to push their cases forward for Rio.
“The Roma Sevens tournament is of significant importance to us this year. Not only will it give the likes of Werner, Warrick and Frankie an opportunity to go out and play and show they are contenders for Team SA’s Rugby Sevens squad, it will also be an important chance for the younger guys to stake a claim for the Blitzboks contracted squad,” Schoeman said.
“A number of players will move on after the Olympics, so there are opportunities to be taken. The Roma Sevens will provide high-class opposition and I am sure we will get all the answers we want out of the tournament.”
SA Sevens Academy Squad
Sandile Ngcobo (captain), Frankie Horne, Luke van der Smit, Ryan Oosthuizen, Stephan Dippenaar, Branco du Preez, Donovan du Randt, Lungelo Gosa, Warrick Gelant, Dewald Human, Werner Kok, Siviwe Soyizwapi.