Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell, on Friday named 19 players in his preliminary squad to prepare for the Olympic Games, to be contested in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August this year.
The squad will be cut down to 12 members by the middle of next month and will travel to Brazil as part of Team SA. The Blitzbok players will start their preparations on Friday with a team building exercise in Stellenbosch and Caledon. They will begin with on-field training on Monday in Stellenbosch.
Powell included four players with Springbok Test match experience in his group, with Ryan Kankowski, Juan de Jongh, Francois Hougaard and Bryan Habana all forfeiting immediate fifteens ambitions as they try to make the squad to the Olympics.
They all played in at least two tournaments during the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2015/16 and proved their ability to Powell.
Test centurion Habana though, is still involved in club duties with Toulon and will join the squad as soon as those commitments are served.
“Bryan is keen to be part of the group, but understands that his initial absence could count against him when I make my final selection,” said Powell.
“I accept his contractual commitments with Toulon, but also recognize his willingness to contest and contribute to the final squad, whether he makes it or not.”
Powell rewarded a number of players who helped the team to the podium in the World Series this year. The Blitzboks finished second, winning one tournament, contesting four finals and eight semifinals.
The Springbok Sevens made the quarterfinals in all ten tournaments played and regulars such as Chris Dry, Kwagga Smith, Kyle Brown, Philip Snyman, Cheslin Kolbe, Rosko Specman, Branco du Preez, Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld, Werner Kok, Ruhan Nel and Seabelo Senatla all made the initial cut.
Newcomers to the Blitzboks in 2015/16, Tim Agaba, Dylan Sage and Siviwe Soyizwapi are also part of the squad.
Powell admitted that it was a difficult decision and it will be even harder to reduce the squad to 12 next month.
“I feel for those who did not make the squad, but was impressed by their support to the rest of the guys,” said Powell. “One of our core values is to support each other and I am proud to say it was again executed by those who did not make it.
“Looking at our objectives for the season, we obviously wanted to win the series but it was the year of the Olympics and we needed to test some more players, not just from the fifteens code, but also players that have been in our squad for a while. We wanted to give everybody a fair chance to stake his claim for a spot in the Olympic squad.
“Looking towards to the Olympics, the next two months are very important to us. We need to train with purpose and make sure we are ready come 9 August, when Rugby Sevens is played in Rio. We have a good mix of sevens and fifteens players and will play in one warm-up tournament early in July before we jet off to the Olympics.”
The Springbok Sevens training squad for the Rio Olympics is: Tim Agaba, Chris Dry, Ryan Kankowski, Kwagga Smith, Kyle Brown, Philip Snyman, Dylan Sage, Cheslin Kolbe, Rosko Specman, Branco du Preez, Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld, Francois Hougaard, Juan de Jongh, Werner Kok, Ruhan Nel, Seabelo Senatla, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Bryan Habana.