By Mark Etheridge
Sevens rugby is probably South Africa’s best chance of gold medal glory at this month’s 2009 World Games in Kaohsiung City, Taiwan.
This will be the sevens set-up’s third World Games experience, having competed in the 2001 and 2005 versions in Akita, Japan and Duisberg, Germany respectively. On both occasions they returned with silver medals around their necks after losing to arch-rivals Fiji in the final.
Since then though the South Africans have moved up another level to the stage where they will wear the mantle of world champions for the July 16-26 event.
And the squad are revelling in being part of the bigger scheme of things.
Said coach Paul Treu, who is still recovering from a nasty bout of flu this week: “What’s unique for us it that we will be travelling and staying with Team South Africa so we are part of a bigger entity and can mix with the other codes and learn from that sort of experience.”
Treu is no stranger to the World Games experience. “I’ve played for South Africa at one World Games (2001) and then coached the team at another (2005) so I know what it’s like.
“It’s a great experience. Sure, in terms of status and intensity, it’s a whole lot smaller than the Commonwealth Games and some other events but its nice to be part of a team set-up and if we can contribute to the well-being of the team and get a medal it will be great.”
They’ll be up against seven other sides in Taiwan, namely: Argentina, China, Fiji, Japan, Portugal, Taipei and the United States, with the previously mentioned Fiji and Argentina looking the main threats.
The squad have been hard at training at their base in Stellenbosch and wrapped up their preparations with training matches against Cape Town side Hamiltons and then the Western Province Under-21 side.
“Things went well against Hammies,” said team manager Sebastian Prim. “There wasn’t a score per se as we didn’t play proper games. We mainly focused on our set pieces.
“We also had a good run-out against the WP Under-21s. They were full of running and quick and the guys had to work very hard. We dominated at the breakdown situations which led to good attacking opportunities, so overall, it was very good training. We didn’t pick up any injuries during the games and all the guys are in good nick.”
Back to Treu: “Our preparations haven’t been the best because it’s been quite wet and cold for the large part but the good thing is that we only play in the final stages of the Games so will have plenty of time to get used to the tropical conditions. We’ve been to the east a few times before but not at this time of the year and they say it’s very hot and humid over there… so we need to mange the guys quite well in terms of fluid-uptake etc.
“In terms of opposition, as you know in Sevens any given team can win on the day but I would look at the main threats coming from Fiji and Argentina. It’s the national sport in Fiji, they’ve picked a very strong team, and being in the east they’ll have great support so they’ll be dangerous.”
Just how important is it for South African to win? “Very important,” says Treu. “Some people may not think something like the Games is important for the sevens code but for us it is. Contributing to the medals count will be great and also we want the sevens team to build a consistency of winning ways.”
The only new cap in the experienced sevens line-up is Cecil Afrika from the Griffons union.
Says Prim: “He’s from the Griffons. At 21, he’s the highest try-scorer in their history. He is quite a prodigy. He played fullback for the SA Under-20s last year and is contracted to South African sevens until the end of next season.
The full SA sevens rugby squad is: Mpho Mbiyozo, Chase Minnaar, Frankie Horne, Cecil Afrika, Neil Powell, Kyle Brown, Renfred Dazel, Ryno Benjamin, Philip Snyman, Mzwandile Stick, Marius Schoeman, Gio Aplon
Officials: Sebastian Prim, Paul Treu, Hugh Everson, Allan Temple-Jones