Sport

FIVE RINGS TO BIND THEM

Historic season beckons Springbok Women’s Sevens under new head coach

Historic season beckons Springbok Women’s Sevens under new head coach
Renfred Dazel at the Springbok Women's Sevens captain's run at Latymer Upper School in London on 27 May 2022. (Photo: David Van Der Sandt / Gallo Images)

The South African Women Sevens side will venture back into the World Sevens Series circuit for the first time in eight years, but this time it will be as a professional unit.

The upcoming season promises to be the most significant in Springbok Women’s Sevens history.

The team qualified for the upcoming World Sevens Series circuit for the first time since 2014/15 and are an ​​Africa Cup tournament victory away from qualifying for the Paris Olympic Games next year.

They won two Challenger Series tournaments in April, in Stellenbosch, to seal their qualification for the World Series.

SA Rugby has in turn made the Women’s Sevens programme permanent – a qualm of previous head coach Paul Delport – to help sustain the burgeoning side.

“It’s been good now the last few months with the girls qualifying through the Challenger Series, and now we can actually have proper planning going into this new season, so that is a blessing for the system,” new head coach Renfred Dazel told Daily Maverick.

We don’t want to get into that position where we need to go into a Challenger tournament, where we need to go fight to go up again.

Dazel was officially unveiled as permanent head coach two weeks ago after taking over on an interim basis at the end of 2022.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for the girls because I started my coaching career with them and then I moved on to the [Sevens] men and now I’m back,” he said.

Former Blitzbok playmaking star Cecil Afrika will continue as assistant coach to Dazel.

Set goals

Last season was challenging for the Springbok Women’s Sevens. They placed 14th out of 16 teams at the World Cup, held in Cape Town, and finished last in the Cape Town leg of the World Series as an invitational side.

Having gone back to the drawing board, under the tutelage of Dazel, as well as having a full-time programme for the first time, the expectations of performance have raised.

“We have a goal for us that we want to finish in the top eight [out of 12 sides] and I know that’s going to be a tough challenge to stay there,” Dazel said.

Springbok Womens Sevens

Coach Renfred Dazel is tackled by Felicia Jacobs during a Springbok Women’s Sevens training session at Hamiltons RFC in Cape Town. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

“It all depends on the amount of injuries and players you will have available in the bigger squad.”

The bottom four teams at the end of the next Sevens World Series will go into a strenuous Challenger Series to requalify for the following season’s World Series.

“We don’t want to get into that position where we need to go into a Challenger tournament, where we need to go fight to go up again,” said the coach.

“So, we want to, now with this full-time programme, make this thing sustainable so we can be there for the [foreseeable] future.

“It’s a very difficult way to get here through the Challenger Series. For us it was very easy at this time.

“We won the tournament with the highest points and we’re up there, but next year at the Challenger teams need to go to two or three different venues to go and play [among themselves] and then come and play with the bottom four teams on the circuit and then it’s either you stay or new teams will come up.

“But we don’t want to go into that position, so we want to finish in the top eight and then we don’t have to go and qualify all over again with the other challenger teams.

“It’s going to be really tough but I’m excited for this new challenge and this full-time programme.”

Olympic goals

South Africa has an incredible record in African regional competitions. They’ve won the past five Women Africa Cups, without losing a match.

In other countries the tournament serves as a ticket to the Olympics but in the past two editions, in Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) vetoed their participation because its rules state that teams cannot qualify by winning continental competitions.

The Blitzboks failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics for the first time, by not finishing in the top four of the World Series this season. So they too will try to qualify through a continental competition this time around.

It remains to be seen whether Sascoc will amend its rules for both national Sevens teams to attend next year’s Olympic Games if they win their respective regional competitions.

“[The Women’s Africa Cup] is always a difficult competition because most of the time when you go there you need to win to get to a World Cup or you need to win to go to the Commonwealth Games, and now it’s the Olympics and so it’s always going to be tough,” Dazel said.

Dazel

Renfred Dazel at the Springbok Women’s Sevens team announcement at The Cullinan hotel in Cape Town on 7 December 2022. (Photo: Grant Pitcher / Gallo Images)

“Everything there is not as smooth as it goes on a normal circuit or when it’s a World Rugby tournament, so there are a few challenges with accommodation, food, travelling to venues.

“But we just want to focus on what we can do because everybody that goes to that tournament wants to be at the Olympics. It will be a challenge and teams will put us under pressure.”

Player availability

The new full-time Sevens programme means more player availability for Dazel, which has not been possible before.

It is not yet perfect as a large contingency of the national Women’s Sevens squad is currently playing in the Women’s Premier Division tournament for their domestic unions.

But Dazel will have about a month to work with his desired squad before the start of this year’s Women’s Africa Cup Sevens in Tunisia.

“We’re working in the right direction and to also inspire younger girls,” Dazel added.

“There’s a few of them that are still in school that are joining the camp now, so we’re really on the right track for now, but obviously you want your seniors to train, but they’re busy with the Provincial League.

“All the girls will be in by 10 September, after the Women’s Premier Division, because the final is 26 August.

“Some girls like Nadine Roos, who plays in Japan, will come back so she will start training on 2 August, but the whole squad will be in by 10 September.

“Then we have four and a half weeks of preparation for the Olympic Qualifiers then we’re done and it is another four weeks before the World Circuit starts.”

A long, hard season awaits the Bok Women’s Sevens, but all the ingredients are there for the historic season to be a success. DM

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