Cape Town – The Blitzboks have received a major boost for the New Zealand Sevens with the return of star playmaker Selvyn Davids, but will have a new-look squad in Hamilton this weekend.
That is due to the retirement of stalwart Branco du Preez, as well as the departure of JC Pretorius (Lions), Muller du Plessis (Sharks) and Sako Makata (Griquas), who have now changed to the 15s code.
Blitzboks coach Sandile Ngcobo has made four changes to the squad that did duty at the Cape Town Sevens in December, where the hosts lost to eventual champions Samoa in the Cup semi-final – after South Africa won the Dubai Sevens a week earlier.
Jaiden Baron, Davids, Shaun Williams and Christie Grobbelaar have come in for Du Preez, Pretorius, Du Plessis and Makata, with James Murphy missing out on selection this time around.
Davids had to sit out the Dubai and Cape Town tournaments with a knee problem, and his speed and skill will be vital to South Africa’s approach in Hamilton.
“Selvyn is obviously one of the best, but picked up a knee strain after Hong Kong, and we wanted to have him fit for the 2023 part of the season, so he did rehab rather than play in Dubai and Cape Town,” Ngcobo said.
“Shaun is also a great player, so versatile ,and he has emerged as one of the leaders in the squad, and his speed will benefit the backs no doubt.”
Boland Cavaliers scrumhalf Baron has received his maiden call-up to the national side, having excelled in the Currie Cup First Division last year, where he was the top try-scorer with 12 in nine matches and was chosen as the Player of the Year.
The 25-year-old from Ceres featured for the SA Sevens A side in Dubai in December and impressed Ngcobo.
“We actually scouted Jaiden pre-Covid to join our academy, but he had a shoulder injury and was out for a year. Then Covid came and stalled everything,” Ngcobo said.
“Jaiden played really well for Boland last year and this time around, he could join us. He did very well in training, and we wanted to add more playmaking to our backs, something he can certainly do.
“He is also extremely fast... No wonder he goes by the nickname of ‘Die Wind’, and is not scared to tackle. I am really looking forward to what he will bring.”
The Springbok Sevens will begin their Pool D campaign against Canada on Friday (10.10pm SA time), followed by Spain (1.38am Saturday) and Argentina (4.44am Saturday), and senior player Impi Visser hopes the fresh blood in the team will add real impetus in Hamilton.
“We’ve lost a couple or regulars, so it’s important that we get the young guys up to speed and on the same page quickly,” he said.
“Luckily, the younger guys are very excited, and they bring a different energy to the team, so it’s going to be interesting to see what they produce on the weekend.
“But it’s also a tough tournament considering the 11-hour time difference, so it’s important to have guys who know how to approach this tour.
“We have a few experienced guys who know all about it, including (assistant) coach Philip (Snyman), and I think it helps to have those guys here to guide the younger players and show them the ropes, so they can more easily slot into this new time zone.”
Springbok Sevens squad (with World Series statistics)
Ryan Oosthuizen: 35 tournaments, 169 matches (185 points: 37 tries)
Impi Visser: 24 tournaments, 124 matches (125 points: 25 tries)
Zain Davids: 35 tournaments, 176 matches (160 points: 32 tries)
Selvyn Davids: 28 tournaments, 146 matches (576 points: 71 tries, 109 conversions, 1 penalty)
Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain): 43 tournaments, 227 matches (695 points: 139 tries)
Christie Grobbelaar: 10 tournaments, 49 matches (70 points: 14 tries)
Shaun Williams: 7 tournaments, 35 matches (80 points: 12 tries, 10 conversions)
Masande Mtshali: 2 tournaments, 2 matches
Shilton van Wyk: 7 tournaments, 40 matches (70 points: 14 tries)
Darren Adonis: 9 tournaments, 39 matches (54 points: 10 tries, 2 conversions)
Dalvon Blood: 3 tournaments, 16 matches (40 points: 8 tries)
Ricardo Duarttee: 2 tournaments, 12 matches (53 points: 5 tries, 14 conversions)
Jaiden Baron: Debut
Blitzboks Pool D Fixtures (SA times)
Friday, 10.10pm: Canada
Saturday, 1.38am: Spain, 4.44am: Argentina
* Cup Playoffs on Sunday