Depleted Blitzboks face tough mission to win in Hong Kong

The Blitzboks are runaway leaders of the 2016/17 HSBC World Sevens Series after winning four of the six tournaments played this season and coming second in the other two.

They are 23 points clear of England and have 126 log points.

But along the way they have shed players at an alarming rate‚ first Kyle Brown to a knee injury‚ then try-scoring machine Seabelo Senatla and bruising forward Kwagga Smith to Super Rugby.

And they will now travel to Hong Kong without Rosko Specman‚ Justin Geduld and Stephan Dippenaar who were also injured.

Losing six players that would walk into any squad on the circuit is a massive handicap as the one tournament they’ve never won looms next weekend.

The situation has forced coach Neil Powell to hand a debut to Griffons playmaker Selvyn Davids who has been part of the Sevens academy for the past few seasons.

Tim Agaba‚ who was part of the team that won the Olympic Games bronze medal in Rio last year is back for the first time this season after a long ankle injury lay-off to give Powell something to smile about.

And the exceptional Branco du Preez‚ who was in doubt for this event‚ was cleared to play. It’s some good news. Veteran playmaker Cecile Afrika will make his 50th world series appearance for the Blitzboks in Hong Kong.

Powell also named Ryan Oosthuizen as the reserve player to travel with the team to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Should he be called upon‚ Oosthuizen will make his debut for South Africa. Powell said he was happy to have Agaba back and keen to see what Davids could bring to the team.

“Tim really performed well for us last year‚ so it is good to have him back. He has not played much‚ so it will be a big challenge for him‚ but he has shown in the past that he embraces those‚” said Powell.

“Selvyn will have an important role to play‚ stepping into the shoes of Rosko‚ but he has worked hard and deserves this opportunity. He has impressed me in Dubai when he played with the SA Rugby Sevens Academy side and I believe he will be a good addition to the team.”

Powell was relieved that a number of senior players managed to shake off niggles and were available for selection to Hong Kong‚ a tournament South Africa has never won.

Branco du Preez‚ Cecil Afrika‚ Chris Dry and Ruhan Nel all passed fitness tests and will leave with the team on Sunday.

“Our injury situation did not look good a couple of weeks ago coming back from Vancouver‚ but credit much be given to our medical and conditioning staff‚” said Powell.

“We will never compromise on player welfare‚ but I am comfortable that all of them are fit and ready to go.”

The team has played in all six finals of the current series‚ winning four‚ but Powell points out that it means nothing in relation to the seventh tournament‚ in Hong Kong.

“It is a new tournament and we all start even. We have not won there‚ so it will be an added desire for the squad‚ but we will not look too far ahead. All our focus will be on that first match on Friday when we face France‚ a very dangerous opponent at any given time‚” said Powell.

The Blitzboks will also face Kenya and Canada in Pool B.

The Springbok Sevens team for the HSBC/Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens is: 1. Chris Dry‚ 2. Philip Snyman (capt)‚ 3. Dylan Sage‚ 4. Zain Davids‚ 5. Werner Kok‚ 6. Siviwe Soyizwapi‚ 7. Branco du Preez‚ 8. Tim Agaba‚ 9. Selvyn Davids‚ 10. Cecil Afrika‚ 11. Stedman Gans‚ 12. Ruhan Nel 13. Ryan Oosthuizen* *Travelling reserve

 – TMG Digital/TMG Sport

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