They came, they saw and they conquered in 2018, and not much has changed for SA Rugby Sevens Academy coach, Marius Schoeman, and his team upon arrival earlier this week in Uruguay, where they will defend their Punta del Este Sevens title on Saturday and Sunday at the Campus de Maldonado Stadium.
The tournament, the first of two on the Sudamerica Rugby Sevens circuit, will be played in this popular coastal resort city, a venue where the South Africans have shown grit, determination and ability to play the big moments last year and Schoeman wants more of the same, although winning will not be the start or the end of it.
Schoeman, who scored over a 100 tries during his Blitzbok career, will meet some familiar faces next to the field. Fijian legend Waisale Serevi is now coaching Russia, one of the three opponents the South Africans will face on the opening day in Pool B.
Another well-known name on the team management lists will be that of Schoeman’s former Blitzbok team-mate Vuyo Zangqa, who is earning his coaching stripes with Germany.
“Yes, the Russians are very keen to get back onto the World Series, then there is Vuyo with his German team and Argentina also arrived with the same squad that play in the World Series, as they are using this tournament as preparation for the New Zealand leg of the series at the end of the month,” said Schoeman.
“We also play Colombia and then face Uruguay in our final pool match of the night, a tough encounter against the host nation. So this will certainly be no easy day out for us.”
Schoeman’s charges include three Blitzboks in Heino Bezuidenhout, James Murphy and Ryan Oosthuizen, all of whom contributed to the Springbok Sevens squad winning the grand prize last year, when they claimed a second consecutive HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title.
They know better than most about the pressures of being the top dog, but Schoeman’s focus will rather be on the rest of his squad and how they react to the pressures of being under fire from those who have all to play for.
“We come here with a different objective to most of our opponents – this tour is all about our own objectives,” said Schoeman, who has moulded and developed the next generation of Blitzboks on trips such as these.
“We travelled many hours to get here, but as I’ve stated before, we came here not worried about results. I want the players to grow as individuals and to show me why they could be the next Seabelo Senatla, Justin Geduld, Werner Kok or Kwagga Smith, players who walked this road before them.
“They will be able to play and develop within the wider Blitzboks structures and principles, something that was very beneficial to us in the last couple of years, when a number of players stepped into the senior side successfully.
“For the South American sides here this weekend, there are two spots available to get to Hong Kong in March, where they will be playing in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifying tournament. This is a first step for them to try and get onto the world circuit, something that is obviously massive for all sevens teams in the world.”
The 12 competing squads are divided into three pools of four with two South American countries and two countries from other regions in each.
The pools are:
Pool A: USA, Germany, Chile, Paraguay
Pool B: South Africa, Russia, Uruguay, Colombia
Pool C: Argentina, Canada, Portugal, Brazil
SA Academy fixtures (5/6 January, SA times):
23h15 vs Russia
01h27 vs Colombia
03h39 vs Uruguay
The SA Rugby Sevens Academy squad is:
- Ryan Oosthuizen
- Sako Makata
- James Murphy
- Heino Bezuidenhout
- Luyanda Mngidi
- Henk Cilliers
- Donovan du Randt
- Angus van Niekerk
- Kurt-Lee Arendse
- Wayne van der Bank
- Angelo Davids
- Luvo Claassen