Blitzbokke skipper lauds Habana

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Habana has won virtually everything on offer in world rugby, but is chasing a unique accomplishment for a rugby player – an Olympic gold medal.

And he will start that journey early on Saturday morning South African time in the Las Vegas Sevens, with the Blitzbokke taking on Canada at 2.35am in Pool D, and then Wales at 5.58am. Their final pool match is just after midnight on Sunday (12.35am) against hosts USA.

Following in the footsteps of fellow 15-man Springboks Juan de Jongh and Francois Hougaard, Habana and former Sharks No 8 Ryan Kankowski have been brought into the sevens set-up to bolster the Blitzbokke.

However, Kankowski has an injury niggle and won’t feature at the Sam Boyd Stadium this weekend, but is with the squad and will play at the Vancouver Sevens in Canada next week.

“The main aim for the season is to generate depth for the pre-Olympic squad, and I think that’s what we are going to keep chasing for the entire season,” Brown said from the US this week.

“We are lucky enough to have Ryan Kankowski and Bryan Habana join us for this trip, and they’ve been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks to get up to speed with what’s happening on the Sevens circuit.

“We are always keen to keep the internal competition high, and to get a consummate professional like Bryan Habana in, who has been around for many years and he’s one of South Africa’s best, it drives everybody to be at their ultimate best. It’s also nice to teach to be able to teach him a few things on a different kind of field.

“In all honesty, I think the biggest impact they’ve made is off the field. Ryan is actually a very chilled guy, and Bryan Habana is – like we’ve spoken about it, a real professional on and off the field.

“He is probably the leader in recovery – I’m not sure if that says much about his age! But he is the first one out there rolling, first one icing, and it’s good to have people who are at the forefront of SA rugby in our squad.”

Brown returns to action after missing the Wellington and Sydney events due to a persistent shoulder problem. He last played in the triumphant Cape Town Sevens in December, and is joined by three other experienced Blitzbokke in Justin Geduld (shoulder), Cecil Afrika (hamstring) and Branco du Preez (shoulder) in coming back from injuries.

Stand-in captain Philip Snyman, though, has been bitten by the “shoulder bug” and will sit out the next two events, along with those who have gone back to Super Rugby (De Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe and Rayno Benjamin), while Hougaard is on a “sabbatical” at English club Worcester until May.

The South Africans have an excellent record in Vegas, having won in 2011, 2013 and 2014, although they lost the Cup semi-final last year and had to settle for the Plate victory.

And despite the focus on the Rio Olympics in August, they are in with a real chance of winning the World Sevens Series title, as they are joint-top on 69 points with New Zealand and Fiji after four tournaments.

“It was hard to believe that it’s been three months since Dubai and Cape Town. The time has just shot by, with people’s concerns that the season has been long and enduring, but it’s just flying by,” Brown said about his time on the sidelines.

“The guys played unbelievable rugby in Wellington and Sydney, and hopefully we can maintain the momentum. To be back in Vegas, a lovely place to play rugby, it’s incredible how a month later in the year (compared to the usual February tournament date), it seems like a different part of the country.”

Apart from Habana, two other high-profile 15s stars in All Black loose forward Liam Messam and Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper will also play sevens this weekend, although Sonny Bill Williams has been “rested” by New Zealand after running out in Wellington and Sydney.

Blitzbokke Squad:

Chris Dry (48 World Series tournaments), Dylan Sage (3), Tim Agaba (1), Kwagga Smith (19), Bryan Habana (2), Kyle Brown (50, captain), Branco du Preez (41), Rosko Specman (9), Justin Geduld (21), Cecil Afrika (39), Seabelo Senatla (23), Ruhan Nel (6).

Blitzbok Fixtures

Saturday March 5

2.35am: Canada, 5.58am: Wales.

Sunday March 6

12.35am: USA.

* Cup quarter-finals start at 3.31am SA time on Sunday morning, with the semi-finals beginning at 9.14pm and final on Monday morning March 7 at 1.57am.

ashfak.mohamed@inl.co.za

@IndyCapeSport

Original source: Blitzbokke skipper lauds Habana

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