Four tournaments into the of 2018/19 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the Blitzboks looked down and out, failing to make the same impact and strong start that saw them winning consecutive World Series titles in 2016/17 and 2017/18.
In the next four tournaments however, the team earned titles in Vancouver and Singapore after coach Neil Powell decided to inject some youthful exuberance into the squad.
One of the beneficiaries of that call was 20-year-old Sako Makata, who made his debut in Las Vegas and four tournaments and 16 matches in, has two gold medals hanging on his wall.
He is still wide-eyed about the impact this had on his life and budding career, but once he starts talking about the forthcoming HSBC London Sevens, the eyes narrow and the tone get serious.
Yes, the selfie in front of Buckingham Palace was great for his Instagram account, but doing the work at Twickenham come Saturday and Sunday will be even more rewarding, for few things make Makata more proud than running onto the field for this Blitzboks team.
“It has gone very quickly, but I would not have wanted it any other way,” said the former Stirling High School winger.
“I am looking forward to each tournament more and more, as I grow more confident in my roles and responsibilities and the experience gained allows me a bit more time to take the right options,” said the East London-born player.
“You learn a lot quickly about what you should and should not do.”
Makata says he has benefitted from the competition to make the squad.
“I have to admit, I am grateful to be here. The competition in the squad is fierce and the sessions back home are tough, as everyone wants to make the team. That is good, because it pushes everyone to work harder and become better,” he said.
Two wins in four tournaments does set a standard, however.
“That is great to have those two wins under the belt. It does tell one and the squad what we can achieve if we work together and also gives everyone a good idea what level and standard is needed to be successful in the World Series. For me as a young player, experiencing that this early, is wonderful, as I know going into the future what is expected and needed.”
Makata cannot wait to go out and play Saturday.
“I have played a bit now in the last month or two and got on the scoreboard with my first try, so I just want to continue doing my best for the team. The feeling amongst the guys is good and we are keen to go out and perform our best.”
The Blitzboks play Japan, Canada and Argentina in Pool A.
The tournament will be broadcast on SuperSport7 on Saturday and Sunday.
The South African schedule is: