Seabelo Senatla is probably one of the most well-known players on the Sevens circuit. The flier who grew up in the small town of Welkom might see himself as a runner rather than a rugby player, but fans across the world are eternally grateful that he chooses to do most of his running on the pitch. By ANTOINETTE MULLER. Video by DAILY MAVERICK CHRONICLE.
Seabelo Senatla could run long before he could walk. That’s how the legend goes anyway. You can probably tell by looking at him running circles around some of the best Sevens players on the HSBC World Series Sevens circuit, but since he was a kid Senatla’s favourite thing to do was running.
He ran so much that he drove his family a bit mad. Senatla didn’t need anything to set him off, he just preferred moving around as quickly and as far as his little legs could carry him. These days, the World Rugby Sevens player of the year doesn’t get to run as much, not in the same context anyway.
“I don’t run as much as I used to when I am back home, because I am usually on a break and I take my recovery seriously,” Senatla tells the Daily Maverick:
What the 23-year-old does do very well and very often is run around on the rugby field. Last season, it earned him the title of World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year. But having speed is one thing. Knowing how to use that speed is something completely different. Fortunately for the South African Sevens team, Senatla knows exactly how to use his speed. The flier is an exceptionally skilled and intelligent rugby player. Like the rest of his teammates, Senatla works incredibly hard on those skills and while he might not “be one for the books”, his match awareness and especially his ability to visualise during intense periods of play is beyond compare.
And he’s not done yet.
The Wizard from Welkom will this year continue his journey into the foray of XVs. He’s desperate for a Bok jersey, but that doesn’t mean he’s outgrown the format that made him a star. By the Blitzboks’ standards, a bronze medal at the Olympics was somewhat disappointing and Senatla is eyeing up a gold one at the 2020 Games. In between that pursuit, he plans on forging a career with the Stormers, more evidence if it was needed of just how competitively ambitious he is.
Across the world, Senatla is adored by rugby fans, something he had always dreamed of. But dreaming big wasn’t always easy. For a kid from Welkom, a town with just over 200,000 people, making it big didn’t always seem possible. As anyone who grew up in a small town anywhere in the world will tell you: the people who are born in these places tend to die there. This cycle is rarely borne out of lack of ambition, but rather out of the lack of inspiration. As Senatla tells Daily Maverick, growing up, it was only ever the people from the big cities who made it. Big cities, in many countries, have become synonymous with success. But as Senatla and a number of South Africa’s esteemed sports people have shown, small towns often harbour some of the finest talents – they just need to be given the platform to express those talents.
Senatla’s opportunity came through the Harmony Sports Academy, which aims to identify talented rugby and soccer players while finishing their schooling. Although Senatla only took rugby seriously once he left school, it is this academy that set the foundation for his career.
While Senatala’s journey might not be entirely unique, it is another reminder of the role identifiable role models play in shaping the future of young people in South Africa. It’s also evidence of what happens when talent is given every opportunity to be excellent.
In the few short years that he has been setting the Sevens circuit alight, there’s no doubt that he has inspired a whole new generation of youngster who, like him, will love to run.
Rugby careers can be notoriously short and Senatla reckons some of his more senior peers like Cecil Afrika are now “fossils”. Maybe when he’s a fossil, those same kids who, just like him, love to run, will get to run around with him. DM
Photo: Seabelo Senatla (Daily Maverick Chronicle)