Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith have eye on 15s Springbok jerseys
This weekend in Sydney marks the end of their contribution to the Blitzboks’ 2016-17 campaign and perhaps their last altogether
Cape Town — Seabelo Senatla and Kwagga Smith are worlds apart as rugby players‚ yet both are vital members of a Blitzbok team that is on the threshold of something massive.
Senatla is lithe‚ jet-fast and trickier than a conman convention while Smith is rugged‚ hard and as direct as a phone call from the South African Revenue Service. Despite their differences, both have been essential in the Blitzboks’ growth over the past three seasons.
This weekend in Sydney‚ round four of the HSBC World Sevens Series‚ marks the end of their contribution to the Blitzboks’ 2016-17 campaign and perhaps‚ their last altogether.
Both men will return to their Super Rugby franchises early next week — Senatla to the Stormers and Smith to the Lions — where the next phase of their careers begins in earnest.
Both want to become 15s Springboks but until now the pair have only dabbled in the longer version of the game — Smith more so than Senatla.
"They’ve had their fun‚ and now the serious business starts," some might say. But they don’t. The Blitzboks have not been a diversion on the way to something bigger. The Blitzboks have been essential in moulding these two players into the exciting and brilliant players they are.
Both players are 23 years old, yet have a combined 290 caps for the Blitzboks and a combined 232 tries.
Senatla is SA’s leading sevens try-scorer, with 180 in 161 matches, and more should come this weekend in Sydney. Smith has scored 52 tries in his 129 series matches.
Their experience includes winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics. They have tasted success on the biggest stages in world sport.
Senatla, of course, is the current world sevens player of the year and a man who‚ barring injury‚ should comfortably become a Springbok in 2017.
His natural gifts will translate easily into 15s because regardless of the level of rugby‚ there is no substitute for raw pace. Throw in a strong defensive game‚ good awareness of space and an insatiable work ethic.
There is a feeling that Senatla is actually making the full-time switch a little too late in his career.
All Black wing Julian Savea made his Test debut at 21 in 2012‚ and has earned 52 senior caps so far‚ scored 45 Test tries and won a World Cup. He is only 26.
But playing sevens and going to the Olympics was a decision Senatla made. He wanted to go Rio, and when he looks back at his career‚ it won’t be a decision he would easily regret. Those opportunities rarely come up.
Smith‚ who plays flank in 15s‚ might not have a straightforward road into the Springboks‚ let alone the Lions starting team.
At 1.82m and about 93kg‚ Smith is not cut from a traditional Bok flank blueprint.
But neither was Heinrich Brussow. Smith makes up for his relative lack of bulk and height with superb skills‚ a good turn of pace and impressive defensive numbers.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann is likely to employ him at openside‚ but given his ball-carrying skills‚ could also be used as a No 7.
It might make him the smallest SA blindside flank in the professional era‚ but it would be an interesting experiment now that Warwick Tecklenburg has retired.
The departure of the two Blitzboks stalwarts will leave coach Neil Powell with a big selection problem in the coming months‚ but that’s next week’s issue.
For SA though‚ there is only focus on Sydney and widening the 12-point gap they hold over Fiji at the top of the standings.
"They [Senatla and Smith] are great players and great guys and will be missed‚" captain Philip Snyman said. "At least we have one more tournament to play with them‚ so we will try and make it special for all of us."