Siviwe Soyizwapi during the South African national men's sevens rugby team training session at Markotter Fields, Paul Roos Gymnasium on November 28, 2019 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Picture: CARL FOURIE / GALLO IMAGES
Siviwe Soyizwapi during the South African national men's sevens rugby team training session at Markotter Fields, Paul Roos Gymnasium on November 28, 2019 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Picture: CARL FOURIE / GALLO IMAGES

It is perhaps fitting that this weekend’s 50th instalment of the Dubai Sevens tournament will kick off a record six combined men’s and women’s events on this year’s roster.

The three-day event that starts on Friday will bring together 28 teams and while the women got their series going in Glendale Colorado in October‚ the men will kick off their challenge in the desert. 

The Blitzbokke will go into the tournament with new captain Siviwe Soyizwapi taking over from Philip Snyman, but the experience will not be entirely foreign for the flyer. Twice last season Soyizwapi served as stand-in captain and helped take the Blitzboks onto the podium and lifted trophies in Vancouver and Singapore.

The Blitzbokke will hope the captaincy does not affect his impressive try-scoring feats. Soyizwapi has touched down 89 times in 28 tournaments.

Soyizwapi is unconcerned about leading the team‚ pointing rather to the strength of the squad’s collective.

“This is a strong group of players‚ not only in skills and talent‚ but also leadership‚” he said. “We have a variety of skilful players in the squad‚ some playmakers‚ some steppers and some deadly finishers. If it all comes together in this group‚ we will be successful.

“We said we just wanted to unite as a group and execute as a group. We have a lot that we want to try and a lot of stuff we have worked on‚ so if we can do that together as a group‚ we will be strong.”

Soyizwapi said the SA Rugby Sevens Academy will play at the same venue and there is a lot of talent in that squad.

“I think we are around 36 guys in total competing for the 13 slots available on any given weekend‚” he said. “So‚ the competition is fierce‚ but in a good way. We push each other to become better every day and that is a good space to be in as a squad.”

Though competition will be fierce‚ coach Neil Powell has already stated he will be more inclined to stick to the tried and tested. Powell will also want to bed down a trusty group he can take to the Olympics in 2020.

Speedsters Seabelo Senatla and Rosko Specman are back in the squad and will bring valuable experience.

Werner Kok, who missed a large chunk of the Blitzboks’ preparations while with Toulouse, will make his return to Sevens in the Academy side in Dubai.

The first order of business, however, will be to make a flying start in Dubai and then Cape Town in their bid to improve on their fourth place finish in last year’s series when Fiji‚ the US and New Zealand finished above them.

The Blitzbokke will go into the series with a spring in their step thanks to the feel-good factor created by the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win in Japan.

“In fact‚ what the Boks did in Japan inspires us to also go out and do great things‚” Soyizwapi said. “It was massive for the nation and for us as well. It motivated us and we are keen to keep the SA flag flying high.”

SA face Kenya‚ Spain and England in Pool D of the Dubai Sevens.