DUBAI – It is fair to say that the SA Rugby Sevens Academy class of 2017/18 graduated with distinction after they played in the final of the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens International Invitational in Dubai this time around last year.
Afterwards, they travelled to South America where they won tournaments in Uruguay and Chile.
And they delivered even more in the remainder of the season, famously doubling up for the Blitzboks in Hong Kong where they won hearts and bronze, as well as delivering six new Springboks Sevens players, as well as a Springbok in Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
There is no Notshe this time around, and they are also missing the injured Stedman Gans, neither are the six from last year's team who are now fully fledged Blitzboks at the same tournament.
“But,” said head coach Marius Schoeman, “we have 12 players of great potential and keen to follow in the pathway laid by last year's group.”
Schoeman was hard at work in the last few weeks in order to get his troops ready for the challenges coming from Samurai, a strong invitational team, Russia and Germany in pool play.
“We had a good flush-out session on Monday, some time off on Tuesday and a very good session on Wednesday, so I am pretty excited to see how the guys go. This is all about opportunity and they all know that,” Schoeman said.
“We only got some of the guys in late last week as they finished exams and we will not be the most fluent and prepared team at the tournament, but that does not take the opportunity away to show you can go all the way.”
Opportunity indeed. Only JC Pretorius and Sako Makata remained from last year's Dubai squad and both are tipped to break into the senior side sooner, rather than later.
The likes of Chris Dry and WJ Strydom are both on the comeback trail. Dry, who has 64 tournament caps to his name, is trying to get back into the Blitzboks side following a prolonged time on the sideline due to injury, and Strydom is back in the fold after taking a few years off to finish his studies in Pretoria.
James Murphy and Mfundo Ndhlovu graduated into the senior team in Hong Kong and got call-ups later in the season as well.
But for Luyanda Mngidi, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Donovan du Randt, Angus van Niekerk and Angelo Davids, it is all about grabbing that chance Schoeman is referring to.
“These guys can see with their own eyes it can be done,” said Schoeman.
“All the players in the starting line-up from last year are now playing at the same tournament, but for the Blitzboks, and that is exactly the aim and purpose of the Academy.
“Obviously there are no guarantees and credit to Ryan Oosthuizen, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Zain Davids, Dewald Human, Selvyn Davids and Impi Visser for keeping on working hard enough to make it to the senior set-up.
"This is not going to be an easy tournament for us, but I would not want it any other way.”
The SA Rugby Sevens Academy fixtures are (SA time):
12.40pm: v Homeboyz Samurai
3.40pm: v Rugby Club Kuban
5.40pm: v Germany
The SA Rugby Sevens Academy team is:
Chris Dry, James Murphy, Sako Makata, JC Pretorius, Luyanda Mngidi, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Donovan du Randt, WJ Strydom, Angus van Niekerk, Ilunga Mukendi, Angelo Davids, Mfundo Ndhlovu
African News Agency (ANA)