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WORLD SERIES BECKONS

Rare time together gives the perfect boost to Springbok Women’s Sevens

Rare time together gives the perfect boost to Springbok Women’s Sevens
Nadine Roos jumps onto Elizabetha Janse van Rensburg after South Africa beat Belgium at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 in Stellenbosch on 22 April 2022. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images)

The Springbok Women’s Sevens team, under head coach Renfred Dazel, is building a full head of steam to compete in next season’s Sevens World Series against the other top teams in the world.

The Springbok Women’s Sevens team’s convincing win in the Challenger Series – the second tier of international Sevens rugby – in Stellenbosch at the weekend puts them in a prime spot to compete in the World Series next season.

South Africa claimed the title after seeing off China and Belgium in the semifinals of the Challenger Series at the Markötter Stadium on Saturday.

The Springbok Sevens team has improved tremendously since their last competition at the Cape Town Sevens, where they failed to register a win.

The extended time spent together before the Challenger Series means there is better chemistry and understanding between the players. There is also improved depth in the team, with co-captain Zintle Mpupha and electric playmaker Nadine Roos both playing off the bench.

The 5-0 win over China in the semifinal was the first try China’s resolute defence conceded all weekend – a testament to the recent strides South Africa has been making.

Lack of time together

South Africa’s Women’s Sevens team is not contracted to the South African Rugby Union (Saru) – instead, all the female rugby players (XVs and Sevens) are contracted under one umbrella to Saru.

The men’s Sevens side, the Blitzboks, have a separate Sevens contract with Saru.

The South African players celebrate victory over Belgium at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023 in Stellenbosch on 22 April 2022. (Photo: Roger Sedres / Gallo Images)

For this reason, Renfred Dazel and his coaching staff only have limited training time with the squad.

Last year, the problem of this system came to the fore when both the XVs side and the Sevens team had a World Cup in the same year.

South Africa’s Sevens side finished 14th out of 16 teams while the national XVs side finished 11th out of 12 teams in their respective World Cups.

Players like Roos, Sizophila Solontsi and Rights Mkhari featured in both World Cups for both teams.

While the achievements of these players are commendable, both teams suffer from not having all their players together due to their commitments to both formats.

This was a problem previous national women’s head coach, Paul Delport, spoke to Daily Maverick about last year.

Read more at Daily Maverick: Paul Delport quits as Bok Women’s Sevens coach

 Time together

South Africa’s Sevens’ recent performance at the Challenger Series proves that spending more time together before the tournament results in better performances on the field.

The Sevens Women took home first place in the tournament in Stellenbosch on Saturday after a gruelling three-day competition, to secure one foot in next season’s World Sevens Series.

South Africa beat Belgium 17-10 in the final of last weekend’s Challenger Series. 

There is more competition at the same venue this weekend. The side that ends top of the combined log from both weekends will seal their spot in the World Series.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Springbok Women’s Sevens have a strong start to Challenger Series in Stellenbosch

“For us, it’s a job half done. The team went all the way in this tournament. The character we showed in the morning against China [beating them 5-0 in the semifinal]… we prepared for this for three months,” Dazel told Daily Maverick.

Spending three months together is unprecedented for this side.

“The big difference between this squad and the one that played in Cape Town last December is the amount of preparation we had for this. Last time around, we had a week to prepare for the Dubai Invitational, which was followed a week later by the Cape Town tournament,” said Dazel. 

“This shows that the girls can do well if they have the proper preparation. It was the best thing for us going full-time for the last three months, and you can see the results.”

Performance on the field

South Africa participated in the Challenger Series in Chile last year and finished ninth. Their results so far this year are like night and day compared to 2022. 

And on the field, the squad is filled with talent. Often last year, playmaker Roos was the catalyst for everything positive that happened on the field for the Springbok Women’s Sevens. While she remains a game-breaker, there are 12 other players in the squad who are equally capable of big plays. 

“You need 13 players in a tournament… There are one or two girls who missed out on a few games and had to be the 13th player, but just the spirit in the team and the way we worked for each other these last three months [is incredible],” added Dazel.

The Springbok Women’s Sevens team victorious at the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series 2023. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

Belgium took an early 10-0 lead against South Africa in the final, but a collective effort by the home side in the second period – despite a Simamkele Namba yellow card – saw them overcome their European opponents after scoring 17 unanswered points.

“The girls really showed a lot of character and that’s what made me happy as a coach… not even the [tournament] win made me as happy,” added Dazel.

“To see how quickly a group of girls who’ve been together for three months can gel and become family – that’s the most important thing for me.”

The Springbok Women’s Sevens’ next challenge will be to maintain their level of performance this weekend. Another tournament win will ensure they’ll be jetting off alongside the Blitzboks to participate in the World Series. 

“The important thing is to give the team time to celebrate. We give them a 24-hour period from the last game where we tell them to enjoy themselves and do their social media posts and whatever they need to do, but when we get back, we start from zero again because the job is not done… it’s only half-done now,” said Dazel. 

“We need to refocus and look at the pools we’re in and do analysis and get back to where we stopped in this tournament.” DM

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