Imbokodo embrace underdog tag for Rugby World Cup Sevens
The Springbok women are flying under the radar, especially when compared to the men’s team who start as favourites. And that suits Imbokodo just fine.
The Springbok Sevens women’s team is up against it in their first match at the Rugby World Cup (RWC) Sevens on Friday evening. They face a tough test against France — who finished the World Series as runners-up, behind the dominant Aussies.
“I think [being seen as underdogs] is an advantage because all the teams will think it’s easy to play against us and hopefully we’ll surprise them,” Imbokodo co-captain and stalwart Mathrin Simmers told Daily Maverick.
South Africa failed to qualify to play for the World Series as a core nation. The Imbokodo, however, played in one leg of the Sevens World Series this year, in Toulouse, as an invitational team where they finished 10th.
The gap between the two sides in terms of standings is clear, but electric winger Nadine Roos believes that just may be South Africa’s advantage.
“Being the underdogs, not playing much in the World Series, teams don’t really have footage on you,” said Roos to Daily Maverick.
“Obviously the system stays the same, but the [opposition] can’t identify certain players and the way we play and how we want to play. I think that counts a lot in our favour.”
Finding the right players
The composition of the Imbokodo squad, led by former Blitzbok Paul Delport, has had many different faces throughout the Sevens season before the 14-woman RWC Sevens squad was announced on Friday in Stellenbosch.
“The [South African] team that played at the Commonwealth Games and the team that played in Chile, are two different teams,” said Roos.
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South Africa finished a respectable seventh place at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham at the end of July. While in Chile, last month, they played the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series tournament with the winner achieving core status on the Sevens circuit next season.
Imbokodo finished in ninth place with three wins and two losses throughout the weekend in Chile. However, the team was without a host of players as they were representing the Springbok women’s 15s side in a Test series against Spain.
One of those players was Roos herself, who has found excellent form for the Springbok women’s side.
“I would like to carry on the achievements I created at the [Springbok] 15s and I hope to have a similar contribution with the Sevens team,” said Roos.
“For me, consistency is key. I’m always trying to be the most consistent player I can be. Whether it’s with conditioning, skills, I’m always doing that extra 1%, the hard yards.”
Playing at home
South Africa already have one trophy behind their name this season, having won the 2022 Africa Women’s Sevens trophy in Tunisia earlier this year.
Sealing a RWC Sevens trophy is perhaps a far reach for the Imbokodo at this stage. But their objective to put up competitive showings against the best countries in the world this weekend won’t be too hard to achieve with a roaring home crowd behind them.
“We’re playing the second last game of the day next week Friday — just before the men’s game — and we know how much the country stands behind our men but I’m sure they’ll also be behind us women supporting us and cheering us on. I think that will give us an extra boost to take it all the way to the end,” said Roos.
“I’m a bit nervous to play in front of the home crowd but it’s exciting. It’s always exciting to play in the Cape Town stadium, especially in front of family and friends, which makes it a bit more special.
“It’s always an honour playing in your home country. Knowing the vibe that Cape Town stadium can bring, that adds a lot of excitement.”
South Africa takes on France at 18:35 on Friday at Cape Town stadium. DM
The Springbok Women’s Sevens squad (with RWC & World Series stats):
Marlize de Bruin – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Kirsten Eastes – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Nolwazi Hlabangane – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Felicia Jacobs – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Lerato Makua – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Unathi Mali – RWC debut; Two World Series tournaments
Ayanda Malinga – RWC debut, One World Series tournament (10 points)
Zintle Mpupha – 2018 RWC; Six World Series tournaments (40 points
Simamkele Namba – RWC debut
Asisipho Plaatjies – RWC debut; One World Series tournament
Nadine Roos – 2018 RWC; Five World Series tournaments (79 points)
Mathrin Simmers – 2013, 2018 RWC; 14 World Series tournaments (35 points)
Sizophila Solontsi – RWC debut; Two World Series tournaments
Eloise Webb – 2018 RWC; Five World Series tournaments (7 points)