Sport

‘MINI-OLYMPICS’

Star Blitzboks return to national fold for crucial Toulouse Sevens

Star Blitzboks return to national fold for crucial Toulouse Sevens
Justin Geduld of South Africa is tackled by Maka Unufe and Madison Hughes (c) of USA during day 2 of the 2019 HSBC Cape Town Sevens men's match 24, Pool A South Africa and USA at Cape Town Stadium on 14 December, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Springboks Sevens will be hoping for a change of fortune on the Sevens circuit as they welcome a return for several stalwarts including Justin Geduld.

Several experienced Blitzboks returned to the national team fold for the penultimate leg of the World Sevens Series in Toulouse this weekend.

Among them are stalwart playmakers Justin Geduld and Dewald Human who have been out through injury for 15 and five months respectively.

Ronald Brown, Shilton van Wyk and James Murphy have also returned and upped the experience in the squad that has been hamstrung with injury so far this season.

A position the side have been plagued with injury is in the flyhalf and playmaking berth but the return of Geduld, Human and Brown will greatly improve that facet in Toulouse.

“We have a lot of playmakers back and that changes a lot of things,” said SA Sevens assistant coach Philip Snyman.

“The reality is that they were out of action for a while and in Justin’s case, more than a year, so one must be realistic about their comebacks.

“What I can say, they trained well, and I think we will see a lot of our outside backs in space this weekend. Shilton van Wyk and Mfundo Ndhlovu will enjoy the space for sure.

“The nice feedback from our forwards also was that with all the playmakers back, they can now solely focus on their roles of being physical, running hard lines and being effective at the breakdown.”

South Africa currently languish in seventh place on the World Series log but a strong push — with a reinvigorated squad — in the final two series in Toulouse and London will help bridge the gap between themselves and the table-toppers.

Justin Geduld, Toulouse Sevens

Justin Geduld of Team South Africa is tackled by Joe Schroeder of Team United States during the Rugby Sevens Men’s Placing 5-6 match on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Stadium on 28 July, 2021 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Patient return for Geduld

Flyhalf Geduld reached 50 tournaments and passed 1,000 points for his country on the Sevens World Series circuit in Sydney in 2020. He only played two more series that season before suffering a multi-ligament knee injury in Seville that year.

That was 15 months ago.

At that stage, Geduld was one of the most influential playmakers in the world. But he has since missed nearly three years of action which included last year’s home World Cup.

“It was lonely at times, but I always worked towards the goal of playing again,” Geduld said.

“At one stage I had a couple of chats with the medical staff as I was starting to compare the recovery calendar with that of the series. I thought that I would miss these two tournaments (Toulouse and London) as well and only play again next season, but credit to our team who got me ready. I am really excited and just so happy to be back.”

His nearly decade-long experience in the SA Sevens jersey will be vital for a team that have shown signs of inexperience throughout this season.

An added bonus is that Shaun Williams and Ricardo Duarttee have also recovered from the knocks sustained in their last tournament in Singapore a couple of weeks ago, meaning the playmaking stocks are filled for the first time this season.

“I did not realise it until someone mentioned it, but everyone in our squad has won the World Series and knows what it takes to win a tournament and in fact, a World Series,” Geduld said.

“Combine that with the knowledge that we really trained well in Stellenbosch during the last couple of weeks and there is reason for optimism.

“The big focus is getting back onto the field and representing my country again. I am ready for this moment as I was waiting for it, patiently,” added Geduld.

Going for gold

South Africa need to finish in the top four of the World Series in order to qualify directly for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.

Although they’re in seventh place, they’re only 16 points behind fourth-placed France on the World Series table.

The Blitzboks will meet France, Fiji and USA in Pool C this weekend, all possible Olympic opponents.

“We had a good look at who we are playing in our pool and realised that it is actually a carbon copy of what can happen at the Olympics,” said head coach Sandile Ngcobo.

“Considering next year’s Games, our Pool C is a ‘mini-Olympics’ of its own. Our first game on Friday is against France, who will host next year and is hosting here in Toulouse. They will have massive home support in their opening match, and we expect no favours.

“There will be no other team more motivated to beat you than France and we have them first up on Friday.

“Our second game is against Fiji, the double Olympic gold medal winners, who will be very eager to confirm their qualification status by winning the tournament. Again, we will be tested like no other by their style of play and their desire to do well.”

The Blitzboks need to at least reach the semi-finals in Toulouse to stay in the race for automatic qualification for the Olympic Games. New Zealand and hosts France (hosts) secured their tickets to Paris 2024 already, with the three remaining spots to be filled over the next two weekends.

“If we do well here and can qualify for Paris 2024, chances are that we will have to do the same again, only at a different venue. So yes, this is our Olympic trial run, despite us not having confirmed qualification. That said, we are not looking past our first game on Friday, against France in France,” Ngcobo added. DM

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