Heads down as Blitzboks look to bounce back in Hong Kong
The Springbok Sevens team have arrived in Hong Kong and are looking forward to getting back on the field and fixing what went wrong in North America a month ago, but also to see three new players join the Blitzbok family at arguably the most prestigious event on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Blitzbok captain Siviwe Soyizwapi knows all about making your international sevens debut at the impressive Hong Kong Stadium as it was there for him – seven years ago in 2016 – when he first wore the green and gold in the shortened version of the game.
This weekend Donovan Don, Ethan James and Sebastiaan Jobb will in all likelihood join the Blitzbok brotherhood and Soyizwapi hopes that he and his fellow senior team members can make it a weekend to remember for the uncapped trio.
“I remember my debut in Hong Kong like it was yesterday,” said Soyizwapi.
“To play your first tournament for the Springbok Sevens at such a prestigious event will always be a dear memory for me, and this weekend three more players will get the opportunity to make their debuts at such a great stadium and an awesome event.
“My message to them would be to embrace the moment of running out there in front of a packed stadium, to take in every moment and to relish the importance as it all goes by so quickly.
“They are great rugby players and were born to do this, and I think they are going to do very well. They just have to go out there, express themselves and do what they do best.”
All three uncapped players have represented South Africa before. All three have played for the Junior Springboks in the last four years (Jobb in 2019, James in 2021 and 2022, and Don in 2022), while Jobb was also part of the SA Sevens ‘A’ squad a few years ago.
And although they have capped a bunch of new players in the last few months due to injuries and players moving on the 15s, Soyizwapi believes the Blitzboks’ systems are still in place.
“We won’t be doing anything new this week, even if we have some new personnel – we don't require anything different,” said the Blitzbok captain.
“The three of them are talented rugby players and they know how to play. For us as seniors, it’s just a matter of guiding them on the field in sticking to the game plan, but we also want them to express themselves to the best of their abilities.”
Soyizwapi realises the Blitzboks are facing a big challenge in the remainder of the season if they are to reach their goal of a top-four finish on the World Series, which will mean automatic qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
South Africa are currently seventh on the standings on 89 points (level with Samoa) and just five shy of joint-fourth placed Fiji and Australia on 94, with New Zealand leading the charge on 120.
The Blitzboks’ first match is on Friday morning (09h04 SA time) against Ireland, who are eighth overall on 83 points, and on Saturday they face New Zealand (05h04) and Kenya (09h25) in their other pool games.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily under any pressure – this weekend we’re ranked fourth in our pool and we will be up against the top team, but we will treat every game like we always have,” said Soyizwapi.
“We need to ensure we’re mentally ready for every game, and looking at how the season has unfolded so far, every game is now like a final. Hong Kong is one of the biggest stops on the World Series and it’s always amazing to represent South Africa on one of the big stages in sevens rugby.
“We know it’s not going to be easy, and we’ve never won there. Our focus has been personal growth in terms of mental strength and resilience and the group have really worked hard on those elements. If we achieve what we set out to do, we should get that bounce back that we’re looking for.
“We understand there has been a lot of moving parts dating back to after the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Cape Town last year. Sure, it hasn’t been smooth sailing, but we’re a work in progress. It’s important to embrace the process, to keep working hard and to ensure we get to the level we know we can be at.”