There might be 1200 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series points and 65 tournaments worth of experience separating them, but the lure of playing for the Springbok Sevens team will see Branco du Preez and Sako Makata feel as one come Friday at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Du Preez, 67 tournaments strong, and Makata, in only his third, have the same desire this weekend and that is to play at their very best and help the Blitzboks be as competitive as ever. And who knows, maybe win the tournament for the very first time. After all, this is Hong Kong where, as the slogan says, “the world comes to play”.
Du Preez, who will be joining Frankie Horne in second place in all-time World Series appearances for the Blitzboks when he takes to the field in his 68th tournament on Friday, cannot wait to run onto the pitch of Hong Kong National Stadium yet again. He did not play last year as the senior players in the squad were preparing for the Commonwealth Games.
“Every time you come to Hong Kong, and I have been here a couple of times before, you get that feeling that something is about to happen,” said Du Preez, , who has played in 339 matches in his World Series career.
“Each time you step onto the field for the team, representing your country, makes it very special and the crowd makes it even more so.
Du Preez has scored 1220 points, at an average of 3.6 per match, which shows his value to the team, with his 387 conversions the Blitzboks’ benchmark.
“My main aim is to make sure I do my job, whether it is starting the match or coming off the bench. All of us have different responsibilities, but whatever is expected, I will be giving it at the very best of my abilities,” Du Preez added.
For Makata, who is yet to score a try for the team, coming to Hong Kong is hugely inspiring. He was due to play in the Far Eastern city last year as part of a youthful Blitzboks squad, but injury ruled him out of contention.
The news about the younger squad travelling to Hong Kong while the senior squad stay behind to prepare for the Commonwealth Games was communicated way ahead of the actual event, and that was something driving the SA Rugby Sevens Academy guys a year go. But, says Makata, the injury that kept him out of the trip last year was a blessing in disguise.
“To be honest, I am in a much better space this year than in 2018 and in a way, happy that I could not make the trip then,” said Makata.
“This time around, my body is stronger, I had a solid run in the last couple of weeks and I am feeling confident in my abilities. That would not necessarily have been the case a year ago, to be honest.
“Also, the vast amount of experience in this squad provides a much better platform for me to tap into their knowledge,” added Makata.
He is still inexperienced at this level, but for the former Border Craven Week winger, the exposure of playing in Las Vegas and Vancouver was immense.
“The first two tournaments were good for me. I learned a lot. This time, here in Hong Kong, I would like to play more. I am ready for that,” said Makata.
The Blitzboks face Japan, Samoa and Scotland in Pool A of the tournament.