BlitzBoks call up reinforcements
PARIS SEVENS: Cecil Afrika and Mfundo Ndhlovu have been called up to join the South African team as injury replacements for Kurt-Lee Arendse and Stedman Gans.
The Paris tournament – at the Stade Jean-Bouin on Saturday and Sunday – is the 10th and final leg of Sevens World Series.
Arendse (concussion) and Gans (hand) picked up their injuries at the London leg this past weekend and was ruled out of the final tournament of the season.
The last of Ndlovu’s three tournaments for the BlitzBoks was in Las Vegas in March, where he picked up a wrist injury. He was replaced by Arendse for the Vancouver leg of the World Series. He has scored three tries in 14 matches.
Afrika injured his hamstring a year ago in London and this will be his first appearance in the 2018/19 World Series, following a long rehabilitation period.
The former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year is the BlitzBoks’ leading points’ scorer of all time, with 1430 points in 61 tournaments and 318 matches.
The injuries to Gans and Arendse left Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell without his two centres in the team, but he is pleased that Afrika and Ndhlovu can take over.
“Yes, both our injured players play in the same position, with Stedman covering for us at flyhalf as well, so it was a bit of a problem,” Powell said.
“I am happy to be able to bring someone with Cecil’s experience into the team, while Mfundo has shown in the past that he can play at this level. This is also a great opportunity for him to gain more experience. He was probably a bit unlucky to miss out in selection in the first place.”
Powell was also pleased to see Afrika back in the mix: “I am very happy for Cecil, who came back from a long-term injury, and I’m pleased that we can give him an opportunity before the season ends.”
With fourth position on the log secured and Olympic qualification out of the way, Powell is planning some experiments with his playing squad this weekend.
“We still want to do well and end the season on a high, but to qualify with one tournament to go has given us a bit of leeway,” said Powell.
“We want to start some of the guys who did not do so in the past and experiment with one or two players in a position where we could see them perform in future.”
Powell said the performance in London was not what they had wanted: “We are not happy with our consistency. We pride ourselves on our consistency in recent years, but our standards dropped this year with the bigger number of new players coming into the squad. That is something we will address in our culture as we continue our building phase.”
For Ndhlovu, the call to join the squad in Paris was almost a case of Déjà vu, as he was also an injury replacement in France a year ago.
“Last year I replaced Branco du Preez in Paris and myself and Dewald Human, who replaced Cecil, joined the guys in France. This time it is me and Cecil going,” Ndhlovu said.
Ndhlovu was supposed to write exams on Tuesday and Wednesday, before national duty interfered: “I was up studying for an Economics exam until early this morning, as I was due to write on Tuesday, when coach Marius (Schoeman) phoned to say I might be needed in Paris. I was also due to write Business Information Systems on Wednesday.”
Ndhlovu hopes the BlitzBoks can repeat their tournament victory from last year in Paris and said he would love to bring energy to the team.
“It is never nice to replace an injured player and good luck to Kurt and Stedman, I hope they have safe travels back to South Africa and a quick recovery. For me, I will do whatever to bring energy to the guys and make sure I am executing my roles and responsibilities,” he said.
South Africa will face Australia, Wales and Kenya in Pool B of the Paris Sevens.