After a slow start in a 26-5 win over Zimbabwe in their opening game at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, the Springbok Sevens were jolted after losing 14-12 to Kenya.
The South Africans lacked urgency in their play, and they made a number of uncharacteristic handling errors. Even Sevens superstar Seabelo Senatla was guilty of the “dropsies” and suddenly the Blitzboks were faced with a make-or-break Pool B fixture against England.
Captain Kyle Brown and his team showed great character to come through the “ringer” in beating the English 10-0 on Saturday night to reach the Cup quarter-finals. They had survived for another day, but knew that they needed to engineer a serious turnaround if they hoped to defend their South African title.
The spark returned on Sunday as they dispatched Australia 25-5, and followed it up by getting past France 21-12 in the semi-finals. They were just too good for Argentina in the decider, scoring five tries to two in a 29-14 victory.
“It was almost like we were a bit rusty (on Saturday) – we couldn’t do basic skills right, like catching and passing. After the Kenya loss, the guys realised that we can’t just pitch up and think that things will happen for them. They needed to make it happen out there, and that’s exactly what they did against England, and they came out on Sunday and played some good rugby over the three playoff games,” Powell said afterwards.
“And maybe the pressure and enormity of the people supporting us here at the stadium got to the players in those first two games. As soon as we got used to seeing what’s happening out there, I think the guys really did better. This is a funny game – it actually showed when we lost to Kenya on Saturday. It’s never a given, you are never guaranteed a win. You have to guts it out on the pitch.”
Fifteens Springboks Juan de Jongh and Francois Hougaard showed considerable improvement in their performances at the Cape Town Stadium compared to Dubai. De Jongh in particular caught the eye with his trademark sidestepping.
Regular Sevens stalwarts Justin Geduld, Cheslin Kolbe, Philip Snyman and Rayno Benjamin also made strong contributions throughout, but one man who made a serious claim for a place in the Blitzbok squad for the Rio Olympic Games next August is Rosko Specman.
Powell drafted Specman into the team for the Cape Town Sevens after Cecil Afrika’s hamstring injury ruled him out for two weeks.
After initially missing out on the starting line-up, Specman’s impact off the bench was so good that Powell couldn’t ignore him and the former Sharks age-group wing started in every game from the England pool decider onwards.
Specman was one of the stand-out performers in the final against Argentina, breaking the game open when he sped away from the Los Pumas defence to level the scores, and later when nothing seemed on, he got the ball from Brown and turned on the pace to put the South Africans ahead by two tries.
Specman was a bundle of energy on attack and defence at the Cape Town Stadium, and will challenge the likes of Kolbe, Senatla and even Bryan Habana for a place in the 12-man Olympic squad if he maintains consistency throughout the World Sevens Series.
“Rosko really made a step up – he already had a fantastic trial against Maties and he was unlucky not to be in the team for Dubai. He had a fantastic tournament for the Samurai there as well. I said to him ‘Just hang on, you are going to get your opportunity’ and he did that,” Powell said.
“He grabbed his opportunity with both hands, so I’m really happy with how he came through. Even with the (regular) Sevens guys, there are no places booked for the Rio Olympics yet. Everybody needs that opportunity to put up their hands, and to give everyone a fair opportunity, this team needs to be successful.”
Geduld and Snyman were included in the Cape Town Sevens Dream Team, which is selected by TV commentators at the end of the tournament.
Cape Town Sevens Dream Team
Justin Geduld, Philip Snyman (both South Africa), Apisai Domolailai (Fiji), Willy Ambaka (Kenya), Bautista Ezcurra (Argentina), Collins Injera (Kenya), Virimi Vakatawa (France).
Original source: Specman states Sevens Olympic case