Seabelo Senatla rejoins Blitzboks after Hong Kong Super Rugby dalliance but Fiji still look like Sevens World Series champions
South Africa’s all-time top try scorer is back for the final two tournaments after playing for the Stormers at Mong Kok Stadium at the weekend
South Africa have turned to their all-time top try scorer as they look to resurrect a season on the slide in the HSBC Sevens World Series, but it seems too little, too late for Neil Powell’s side.
Just days after stepping out for the Stormers against the Sunwolves in the first Super Rugby match to be played in Hong Kong, sevens superstar Seabelo Senatla is back in the Blitzboks’ squad as they prepare for the final two legs of the series in London and Paris in early June.
The reigning champions find themselves needing a huge finish to knock Fiji off the top of the table and the electric winger will need to play a starring role if the Blitzboks are going to arrest a recent downturn in form (by their standards) and make up the deficit.
They may trail Fiji by only four points but Gareth Baber’s side can smell blood after replacing South Africa at the top of the table on winning the Singapore Sevens – the first time they have led the competition during the former Hong Kong boss’s reign.
— 7s in South Africa (@BlitzBokke) May 22, 2018
The exit of Senatla, as well as Kwagga Smith and Tim Agaba, to Super Rugby after four rounds coincided with the beginning of a drop-off in form for the Blitzboks and that was compounded by their decision to prioritise the Commonwealth Games over the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.
Senatla didn’t set the world on fire at Mong Kok Stadium on Saturday but playing 80 minutes in the searing heat in his first start since recovering from a groin injury will hold him in good stead.
With 219 tries, Senatla is fifth on the all-time list and became the fastest player to score 200 tries in just his 35th tournament in Cape Town in December.
Add to that the fact Senatla is the Blitzboks’ top try scorer this season despite playing only the first four legs – and that he was named the impact player of the tournament in two of those – underlines his value.
But South Africa are something of a sinking ship having missed the past four finals and it would take an epic turnaround on a couple of fronts, with South Africa needing to regain their best form while relying on Fiji slipping out of a purple patch that has seen them win four of the past five events on the series.
When in town for the Hong Kong Sevens in April, stand-in Blitzboks’ coach Marius Schoeman said the positives of bringing a team stacked with youngsters outweighed the negatives, but if you’d told him what was about to unfold he may have thought otherwise.
A third and a fourth on the series and a fourth in the Commonwealth Games are proof that the experiment did not work and South Africa look set to resume their mantle as bridesmaids, which they held for four years prior to their victory last year.
Having Senatla back will certainly give them a shot in the arm, but one feels it won’t be enough to see them save their season and take back-to-back titles.
If that is the case, and Fiji – who selected full-strength teams throughout a jam-packed April – ride their wave of momentum back to the top of the sevens tree, it should serve as a warning to teams considering toying with form.
Injuries and Super Rugby commitments have hurt South Africa, but they managed to deal with much the same on their way to taking the title last season.
While the Commonwealth Games falling a week after Hong Kong was not ideal and not something likely to happen too often, South Africa’s handling of the scheduling will likely cost them another series victory.
The unique structure of this season caused them to take their eye off the ball and even someone like Senatla may not be good enough to right the ship.