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Sevens side using World Games as stepping stone to Rio

Today we feature the fifth in a series of pre-event stories ahead of South Africa’s campaign at the 2013 World Games in Cali, Colombia. South Africa will be represented in nine different sporting codes. MARK ETHERIDGE looks at the chances of our rugby sevens side.

There may be some big names missing from the line-up but the South African rugby sevens side will be as competitive as ever at the World Games.

The team recently returned from the World Cup in Russia and, in a normal season, would be looking forward to a well-deserved break before the 2013/14 season gets underway again.

But team manager Ashley Evert says the team is looking forward to their South American adventure. “They may be tired but it’s the nature of these guys that they are always up for a game. They all want to play as much as possible and, very importantly, they know it’s one of the first steps towards the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“The biggest trick in our code is to manage the players well in terms of freshness and injury. Sure, we won’t be seeing two of our stalwarts, Cecil Africa and Branco du Preez, in Cali but they are both carrying niggling injuries that might prove a hurdle too far. Look, we might have nursed them through but the risk in the bigger picture is just too much.

“And every one of these players has played on the World Sevens circuit so there’s no question of taking a ‘weakened’ team,” says Evert who comes from a coaching background and was an integral part of the Blue Bulls youth programme as well as the national Under-21 set-up.

“Being part of a bigger team in the multi-code sporting environment almost means that they are put into another situation and a bit out of some of their comfort zones which is all good preparation for something like the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next year and then, further down the road, the 2016 Olympics.

“Guys like Jamba Ulengo (back after injury), Werner Kok and Willem Strydom will all be looking to cement places in the team and we also need to get the guys playing as many games as possible and just as importantly, being part of a winning culture.

“We’re certainly looking at winning that gold medal, we don’t’ want to leave anything out there.”

In terms of their preparation for Cali, Evert isn’t unduly concerned. “They are so well honed after a long season that they won’t get any fitter or stronger now. There’ll just be a bit of recovery after Russia and then we will maintain their fitness and get their minds and hearts right, and get them to realise how important Cali is as a stepping stone for our three-year plan for Rio 2016.”

Of the original group of players selected for Colombia, just Kyle Brown, recently back from surgery, and Philip Snyman were in Taiwan for the 2009 Games where they won a bronze medal. Head coach for Cali, Vuyo Zangqa was originally named in the squad as a player before a tragic car accident a month before the Games cost him the sight in an eye and ended his playing career.

Snyman though, has failed to recover from an elbow injury picked up at the World Cup and will now be replaced by Bernardo Botha.

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Hong Kong and Uruguay will be the other seven teams at the World Games and coach Zangqa is taking none of them lightly.

“We can’t give any of the teams in Cali the opportunity to think they can beat us,” is his reckoning. “Because if they beat us in Cali, then the next time we play them they’ll have that self-belief.

“And even the smaller teams will have something to play for. Colombia are hosting the Games so they will want to send a message out and with Brazil hosting the 2016 Olympics they will also have plenty of pride to play for.

This will be the first time that Zanqa and assistant coach Neil Powell are in charge of the senior side in the absence of long-serving coach Paul Treu.

“Neil and I have come a long way together so we know each other well. This tournament will be for us to experience the mindset of a big multi-code event and we can also gauge where the team are right now as well as where we are as coaches.

“There will be no dropping of standardsÔǪ there’s a job to be done and we want to bring back gold for South Africa. We all know that this is an important step in the build up to first the Commonwealth Games and then the Olympics in three years time.”

In terms of players he’ll be watching carefully, Zanqa says: “Werner Kok is a great talent and it will be interesting to see how he goes. Ruwellyn Isbell started off the season but then got injured and then Mark Richards has only played four of the recent tournaments so they’ll both be looking at getting game time and cementing their places.”

The squad for Colombia:
Jamba Ulengo, Bernardo Botha, Werner Kok, Kyle Brown, Reuben Johannes, Willem Strydom, Stephan Dippenaar, Mark Richards, Seabelo Senatla, Steven Hunt, Ruwellyn Isbell, Cornal Hendricks. Manager: Ashley Evert, Coach: Vuyo Zangqa.


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