The Springbok Women’s Sevens squad will have an opportunity to strut their stuff on home soil as they, and women’s rugby, debuts at the Cape Town Sevens, as part of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
There is a general feeling of excitement that is reverberating through the Imbokodo camp as they ponder what a great performance could do for the team’s growth and popularity.
“We are really determined and hoping to compete. Yes, it will be great to be part of it all, but we also want to add something to the tournament; we want to showcase what we can do and test ourselves against the best teams in the world” said captain Zintle Mpupha, speaking at the traditional captains photograph session at Cape Town stadium yesterday.
The stadium will play host to the tournament, and those in attendance will see Imbokodo tackle New Zealand on Friday during the opening day, before going on to face Russia and Fiji on Saturday.
The New Zealanders are fresh from winning last weekend’s tournament in Dubai and are the Rugby World Cup Sevens champions. Imbokodo did not compete in Dubai.
South Africa will have the services of stalwart Zenay Jordaan, who will be vital in terms of making things tick for the team, while 22-year-old flanker Lusanda Dumke will be making her debut.
The team will however be without track convert and speedster Alyssa Conley, who is currently nursing a foot injury.
Conley told Daily Maverick that despite the disappointment of not being part of the weekend spectacle, she was extremely excited to see what the team could achieve.
“I know that they are going to do amazingly well, and they’ve prepared for this. The vibe is really high in the team right now, the atmosphere is good and the girls are hungry. They are ready to go out there and fight on the field…” said Conley.
Though cognisant of the challenges that await them this weekend, Imbokodo coach, Paul Delport says his team is ready to compete and entertain the home support.
“The senior players have enough experience and have shown an ability to contest at the highest level,” Delport said. “The remainder of the squad have proved to be winners in Tunisia, but this is a step-up, not only physically, but also mentally.
“This is going to be a massive honour for our squad playing at home, but we acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it. Let me say this: this team will leave nothing out there.”
Imbokodo were crowned African champions in Tunisia two months ago, clinching the Africa Women’s Sevens Championship.
This win was supposed to book them their ticket to next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) once again denied them the opportunity to compete at the quadrennial multi-sport show-piece.
They qualified for Rio 2016 as well, but they, along with the women’s and men’s hockey teams were denied the opportunity due to Ascot’s stringent, if not regressive, criteria for sending teams to the Olympics.
According to Sascoc, continental glory is not enough to guarantee teams a spot at the Olympics, supposedly as the competition is not strong enough. The only exception being in football with the Africa Cup of Nations.
So, despite Imbokodo reaching the final of that tournament having scored 170 points without conceding, they were denied the chance to compete in Tokyo, with runners-up Kenya instead taking their place.
Speaking to City Press in the aftermath of the plug being pulled on Imbokodo’s dream, Sascoc spokesperson Qondisa Ngwenya had said:
“Rugby Africa wanted us to confirm the South African slot to meet its deadlines, but we declined to do so on the basis that the conditions of qualification, in terms of the unsigned agreement, have not been met by the Women’s Sevens team.”
Ngwenya said that the team should focus on improving their world ranking in order to be considered in future.
That road to proving that Sascoc erred starts now, with the Delport’s charges having put aside the disappointment of that debacle, and now looking to what is a very bright future.
“The next level will be a steep one, but we want to play there and the sooner we know what that level is, the sooner we can get there,” stated Mpupha, adding that they are not at the tournament just to make up the numbers. DM
"Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon." ~ Paul Brandt