Springbok Sevens team for the opening tournament of the 2023 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series has a familiar look to it, with several players who missed out on the Rugby World Cup Sevens included for the trip to Hong Kong.
After not featuring for a few years due to the COVID pandemic, the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens is back on the calendar in the unusual position as season-opener, where the new Blitzbok head coach, Sandile Ngcobo, and his assistant Philip Snyman will be making their debuts with whistles and clipboards for South Africa.
Recalled to the squad after missing out on playing in the RWC Sevens are Ryan Oosthuizen, Branco du Preez, Dewald Human, Darren Adonis and Shilton van Wyk, while Cecil Afrika, Angelo Davids, Muller du Plessis and Shaun Williams miss out for various reasons after featuring in the global showpiece in Cape Town last month.
Du Preez, the most-capped and second most prolific points’ scorer in Blitzbok history, is back in the squad after last appearing in Los Angeles in August, while Human returns after he has recovered from an injury which meant he could not be considered for RWC Sevens.
Oosthuizen was named in the wider RWC Sevens group but missed out on the final 12-player squad, while Adonis and Van Wyk are also back in the mix after also last playing in Los Angeles.
Ngcobo had an opportunity to work with Du Preez, Human, Oosthuizen, Adonis and Van Wyk after all five of them were recently in action when Ngcobo took his wider squad to the Kanonkop Sevens in Middelburg, Mpumalanga last month.
Afrika has gone back into retirement after being recalled for RWC Sevens duty due to a lack of options at flyhalf, Angelo Davids is with the DHL Stormers, while Du Plessis and Williams are both unavailable due to injury, joining Zain Davids, Justin Geduld, Lubabalo Dobela and Tiaan Pretorius on the sidelines.
Ngcobo said he was experiencing a mixture of excitement and nerves prior to the Blitzboks’ departure to Hong Kong, where the Blitzboks will aim to start the new season on a high note.
“It’s good to be able to travel to Hong Kong with a settled squad and to have some players back who missed out in Cape Town, but what we are looking forward to the most, is playing again at the highest level, and to go out and compete to our full potential,” said Ngcobo.
“It doesn’t matter where we go, we just want to go out and play to the best of our ability, especially as the last few years have been difficult with all the interruptions.
“However, once we returned to some form of normality earlier this year, it was great to see the spirit of sevens rugby rise again, and as a group we can’t wait to get the ball rolling for the new season.
“A new season brings with it new possibilities and new challenges, and the players in our training squad are raring to go.”
The Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will feature the 15 core teams on the World Series plus Asian champions and the host nation.
South Africa, France, and a combined Great Britain squad are joined by series debutants Uruguay in Pool B.
“The French can beat anyone on any day, and the Great Britain team will be a bit of an unknown factor, while we know that the South American sides are never easy to play against,” said Ngcobo.
Hong Kong have been drawn in Pool A with defending World Series champions Australia, New Zealand and Samoa.
Defending Rugby World Cup Sevens champions Fiji – out to claim their sixth straight win in Hong Kong – top Pool C, where they will face the USA, Spain and Japan.
Argentina and Ireland, who qualified for the World Series on their last outing in Hong Kong in 2019, are joined by Kenya and Canada in Pool D.
Du Preez will play his 10th Hong Kong tournament, the most for any South African player. He will also extend his Blitzbok career tournament record to 83 on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Oosthuizen (2016), Selvyn Davids (2018) and Mfundo Ndlovu (2018) made their Blitzbok debuts on the World Series in Hong Kong.
The Blitzbok squad for the Hong Kong Sevens (with World Series stats)
Sako Makata – 16 tournaments, 60 points (12 tries)
Ryan Oosthuizen – 32 tournaments, 160 points (32 tries)
Impi Visser – 21 tournaments, 115 points (23 tries)
JC Pretorius – 20 tournaments, 225 points (45 tries)
Branco du Preez – 82 tournaments, 1434 points (100 tries, 464 conversions, 1 penalty goal, 1 drop goal)
Selvyn Davids – 27 tournaments, 564 points (69 tries, 108 conversions, 1 penalty goal)
Ronald Brown – 8 tournaments, 285 points (27 tries, 75 conversions)
Dewald Human – 10 tournaments, 211 points (17 tries, 63 conversions)
Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain) – 40 tournaments, 670 points (134 tries)
Mfundo Ndhlovu – 10 tournaments, 60 points (12 tries).
Christie Grobbelaar – 8 tournaments, 70 points (14 tries)
Shilton van Wyk – 4 tournaments, 30 points (6 tries)
Darren Adonis – 7 tournaments, 54 points (10 tries, 2 conversions)