Shaun Williams was surprised when told that he would be travelling to Canada with the Springbok Sevens squad this week, but for the uncapped Blitzbok, every opportunity is one to be seized.
The 23-year-old Rustenburg-born Williams was called into the Blitzbok squad for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in Vancouver and Edmonton barely a year after linking up with the SA Rugby Sevens Academy, and he was grateful for the “early” opportunity to represent his country.
“I was busy with my final year studies in Transportation Management at the University of Johannesburg when COVID struck,” recalled the former Blue Bulls Youth Weeks representative.
“Luckily for me, the opportunity at the SA Rugby Sevens Academy presented itself and I could go into a professional set-up, which helped me during the difficult time COVID created for many sportsmen around the country.
“To be honest, I was not expecting to be called into the Blitzbok squad this early, as I thought that it would take around six tournaments for the Academy side to push for a place.
“But when coach Neil (Powell) called me into the one-on-one and told me I am going to Vancouver, I felt ready. The massive opportunity presenting itself is something I want to embrace.”
Originally from the small community of Mooinooi on the platinum belt in the North West province, the talents of the Elandskraal Primary School scrumhalf were soon spotted. He attended Garsfontein High School in Pretoria on a bursary and after school accepted a contract from the Golden Lions, whom he represented at U19 and U21 levels, before making his senior debut for the team in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge.
“I have to thank my mom, Mariaan Williams, who sent her youngest off to boarding school to chase his dreams,” added Williams, who played scrumhalf at Garsfontein, but it was rather a younger No 9 who made the experts sit up and take notice.
“We all knew it was a matter of when and not if Embrose Papier would become a Springbok,” Williams said with a smile.
“He became the first Springbok the school had produced, and I am happy to say I will be their first Blitzbok.”
Williams has a vivid memory of the World Series: “I remember sitting in Joburg and watching the tournament where our guys came back from nowhere to beat Fiji in the final (Singapore 2019).
“The guys showed such tremendous fight against a world class team like Fiji and that stuck with me. I hope to be challenged in a similar way and will try to use the memories of guys like Justin Geduld, Rosko Specman and Branco du Preez to respond.”
At 1.71m tall and 71kg, Williams is not the biggest of players, but he is highly rated by the national sevens coaches, with his speed and playmaking ability a major threat.
“Coach Neil told me not to put too much pressure on myself in Canada,” Williams said.
“He said I must just be that player that earned a national contract and keep on playing my game. I am really excited and proud to become a Blitzbok.”
South Africa will open their campaign on Saturday at BC Place against Mexico (19h53 SA time), before they take on Spain (23h04) and Kenya (Sunday 02h35).