Zain Davids, a Junior Springbok star in 2016, was one of two new players in the Blitzbok squad named by coach Neil Powell on Wednesday, with the inclusion of Siviwe Soyizwapi the other change for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournaments in Wellington and Sydney.
These tournaments, the third and fourth in the series, will be played in the New Zealand capital on 28 and 29 January, and in Australia on 4 and 5 February respectively.
Soyizwapi and Davids, who will be making his Springbok Sevens debut in Wellington, are the only new faces in the squad that won the opening tournament of the 2016/17 series in Dubai in December last year and were beaten finalists in Cape Town a week later.
Their inclusion in the squad was necessitated by knee injuries to Kyle Brown and Cecil Afrika. Davids will replace Brown and Soyizwapi comes in for Afrika.
Brown injured his knee at the sold-out Cape Town event and will be out of action for at least six months after undergoing successful surgery, while Afrika injured his knee in training earlier this week, resulting in him missing the trip.
“We have lost over 100 tournaments worth of experience with Kyle and Cecil out of action,” said Powell.
“That said, we always knew that we needed to bring new players into the system and Zain was earmarked as one of them. He has shown a good appetite for sevens and will now be tested at the highest level.“Shakes (Soyizwapi) played for us last year and will be keen to establish himself in the side, especially as Seabelo Senatla will be moving to fifteens. He did very well in the warm-up tournament in Namibia late last year and I am pleased to have him in the playing squad.”
Davids, who represented the Junior Springboks as a flanker at the World Rugby Under 20 Championship in 2016, will make his debut for the Blitzboks in New Zealand after a successful start with the SA Rugby Sevens Academy in Dubai last year.
Soyizwapi was part of the squad in Dubai and Cape Town as the official back-up player. He sat on the bench for the Blitzboks in their final of the HSBC Cape Town Sevens against England when Senatla could not complete the tournament due to a quad strain.
Good news is that Senatla was declared fit for his final two tournaments for the Blitzboks before transferring to the DHL Stormers team for Vodacom Super Rugby. He will be keen to add to his overall try tally of 172, only seven shy of the Springbok Sevens record of 179 career tries held by Fabian Juries.
The Blitzboks are leading the World Series after two tournaments, but that does not guarantee anything, Powell admitted.
“We have a tough pool in Wellington, but I am happy with the way the guys trained and came back from the break,” Powell said.
The Springbok Sevens are grouped with Olympic Games gold medallists, Fiji, in Pool B, as well as Australia and Japan, their first opponent in the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Soyizwapi’s spot as the reserve player will be taken by Sandile Ngcobo, who made his Blitzboks debut at Wellington last year.
The Springbok Sevens team is:
1. Chris Dry (54 tournaments, 380 points)
2. Philip Snyman (captain, 39, 231)
3. Dylan Sage (9, 45)
4. Kwagga Smith (26, 255)
5. Werner Kok (21, 250)
6. Zain Davids (debut)
7. Branco du Preez (47, 922)
8. Rosko Specman (15, 196)
9. Justin Geduld (27, 594)
10. Siviwe Soyizwapi (4, 30)
11. Ruhan Nel (13, 125)
12. Seabelo Senatla (31, 860)
13. Sandile Ngcobo (2, 10)*
* Reserve Player