Pool B: South American title winners force their way into Fiji team
Fiji have named their squad for the next two rounds of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series, with two debutants included on the roster.
Five of the Fijian Barbarians team that won last weekend’s Sudamerica Rugby Sevens Series have been rewarded for their performances in Uruguay and Chile with a place in the Fiji squad for the upcoming Wellington and Sydney Sevens.
Mesulame Kunavula and Nacanieli Labalaba will make their series debuts, while Kalioni Nasoko, Amenoni Nasilasila and Alivereti Veitokani return to the side.
Retained from the last round in Cape Town are Jasa Veremalua, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Setareki Bituniyata, Nemani Nagusa, Jerry Tuwai, Osea Kolinisau, Samisoni Viriviri and Joeli Lutumailagi.
Vatemo Ravouvou, who missed out on the first leg of the series, has also been named in the team.
Coach Gareth Baber, who is taking charge of Fiji for the first time since his appointment as Ben Ryan’s successor, said all five deserved their call-ups.
“We believe that we have selected a very good team which has a mixture of experienced and youthful players. I am confident that the team will do well in both tournaments,” he said.
“Some of the senior players are still recovering from injury and will be considered for the next leg once their rebab has been completed.”
The draw for Wellington sees defending series champions Fiji paired with last year’s runners-up South Africa, who beat them 26-14 in the Dubai Sevens final, Australia and Japan.
Fiji are third in the series standings heading into the two Oceania-based rounds, nine points behind the pace-setting Blitzboks.
Fiji squad: Jasa Veremulua, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Setareki Bituniyata, Nemani Nagusa, Kalioni Nasoko, Mesulame Kunavula, Jerry Tuwai, Vatemo Ravouvou, Osea Kolinisau (Capt.), Alifereti Veitokani, Amenoni Nasilasila, Samisoni Viriviri, Nacanieli Labalaba, Joeli Lutumailagi
SOUTH AFRICA PROMOTE YOUTH
Zain Davids (pictured), a Junior Springbok star in 2016, is one of two new players in the Blitzbok squad named by coach Neil Powell, 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 of the series, will be played in the New Zealand capital on 28-29 January, and in Australia on 4-5 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.
EXPERIENCED DUO OUT
“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 (pictured) will be moving to 15s. 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 U20 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.
Senatla, meanwhile, has been declared fit for the final two tournaments of the series before transferring to the Stormers team for 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.
They are grouped with Olympic gold medallists Fiji in Pool B, as well as Australia and Japan, their first opponent at 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.
South Africa squad: Chris Dry, Philip Snyman (captain), Dylan Sage, Kwagga Smith, Werner Kok, Zain Davids, Branco du Preez, Rosko Specman, Justin Geduld, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Ruhan Nel, Seabelo Senatla, Sandile Ngcobo.
HORNE CALLS TIME ON STELLAR CAREER
Former Blitzbok captain Frankie Horne has announced his decision to retire from rugby.
The 33-year-old Horne, whose 68 consecutive tournament appearances is a record for the most appearances for the Blitzboks, was part of the 2008-09 team that won the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, as well as a member of Team SA’s squad that won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in 2014.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell said Horne’s longevity as a player stemmed from his professionalism and work ethic.
“I think that the SA record of 68 consecutive tournaments will stand for a long time,” Powell said.
“That is a true testament of Frankie’s fitness and durability over many seasons. He was a real stalwart for so long and the one thing I will always appreciate was Frankie’s determination. He refused to give up, ever. No matter how down we were as a team, he always motivated the players and tried to pick them up again. He will be remembered as one of our great sevens players.”
Horne was grateful for the support over many years. “I would just like to thank SARU and everyone there for an incredible journey. Playing for the Springbok Sevens team and representing my country at the highest level, has not only been a dream come true, but also my life’s honour. Without the support and backing from SA Rugby, fans, friends and lastly my family this would never have materialised.
“I have been blessed to have met, played with and against some truly amazing individuals and athletes. The game that I love has giving me so much and for that I’m truly thankful. Thank you for all the support throughout the years, through the ups and the downs, even if we never said thanks, it hasn’t gone unnoticed and it means the world to us,” he said.