The news that tickets to the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 in Cape Town in September will go on sale later this month was welcomed from all over, and one of the Eastern Cape’s more experienced rugby players in particular shared the excitement of the announcement with her fellow South Africans.
And while most supporters were scanning ticket prices and seating possibilities, Springbok Women’s Sevens player Snenhlanhla Shozi looked at the second weekend in September with a different motivation, as she wants to be in Cape Town at that time.
Shozi wants to be part of the action and to contribute yet again to the excitement this global sporting showpiece brings, just as she did in 2018, at the previous tournament held in San Francisco.
Back then, the outside back became the first Springbok Women’s Sevens player to score a hat-trick for South Africa in the Rugby World Cup Sevens when she crossed the try-line three time against Mexico, and she finished the event as her country’s leading try and points’ scorer.
“I was very fortunate to be part of that team and when I was given the opportunity to be part of this squad, it was such a huge thing for me,” the 27-year-old said from Stellenbosch, where the national squad are in camp to prepare for not only the Cape Town event, but also the African Cup Sevens in Tunisia at the end of April.
“The experience I picked up from playing in San Francisco in 2018 has helped me already during these camps. I know how hard it is to play at that level and at such an occasion. More importantly, I know how much work I still need to put in to return to that level.”
Shozi’s form following her USA exploits saw her being drafted into the Springbok Women’s team for their overseas tour to the United Kingdom in 2018, and she was part of their RWC qualifying campaign in 2019 as well, where she continued to find shortcuts to the try-line, scoring five tries in five Tests.
Her focus then shifted as she was called upon to complete sangoma training, while also enrolling in a Sport Management Diploma at Walter Sisulu University in East London.
Luckily Shozi was not lost to rugby and last year she helped the Border Ladies to win the SA Rugby Women’s Premier Division title. That form earned her a recall to coach Paul Delport’s squad when he reconvened his team for the 2022 season, that could also see them play at the Commonwealth Games, should they be successful in Tunisia.
Shozi welcomed that recall and she is not shy to sing the praises of the shortened code of rugby: “Sevens is all about the space. With 15s there are obviously less space, but the other thing about sevens is how one second can cost you dearly.
“In 15s one can normally recover from a missed tackle, but in sevens, if you make a mistake, you and your team will pay the price.”
The other lure is that she feels the code brings out the best in her, although she is reluctant to speak about her potential role in the squad.
“I know what I am good at, I can identify the space on the field,” she said.
“I can also kick pretty well, simply because I played soccer before. I still need to work on tactical kicking but that is not so much at stake now. Sevens is a game that I like. I know if I am fit enough, I can perform in this game. I hope this time I can be involve for a long time.”
Due to her 15s involvement at the time, Shozi missed out of the World Series tournament in Cape Town in 2019, where the national side made their home debut, and she is determined not to miss out again.
“I felt what it was in San Francisco – that vibe of 100 000 people over those three days – and that is the vibe that comes to my mind,” she explains.
The road back will not be an easy one, as Delport takes no prisoners in preparing the squad in tough conditions and searing heat at their Stellenbosch Academy of Sport base. Shozi says the players are embracing the challenge though, as they all want to be part of the final squad.
“The conditions are telling yes, it is tough,” she said.
“I have to compliment the management though for meeting us halfway. They have provided us with a training and conditioning programme to prepare us for the conditions we are encountering here. They gave us the work-ons, we must do the homework to make sure we are ready when we come here and best prepare for that very important tournament in Tunisia.”
The squad will play in competitive matches for the first time on Saturday, when they travel to Hermanus, where they will participate in a local tournament. They will also have contact sessions on Thursday with the SAS Sevens Academy and the Uganda men’s team, who is currently training in Stellenbosch.