Sevens will rival XVs says Senatla
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Seabelo Senatla believes Sevens will one day be the "equivalent" to the XV-man game on the world stage.
In the 2015/16 World Rugby Sevens Series, the 23-year-old scored 66 tries. You read that correctly, 66. Senatla may still have some way to go to match Fiji's Vilimoni Delesau, who scored 83 tries in the 1999/2000 series, but for someone who has scored 113 tries over the past two seasons he has already offered a lot to fans around the globe.
Senatla's efforts over the past two series have also been duly rewarded, with him scooping the World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year 2016 award last month in London, an accolade he accepted in a typically humble fashion.
"It's an incredible feeling, I think I'm really humbled by getting this prize," he told worldrugby.org. "Ultimately though I think I am feeling the way I should be feeling because I put myself so much in the team and winning something with them has really felt much more incredible and not winning with them really makes me feel like this is their award because of the way they played and the way they put me in space. I really feel like I didn’t do the whole level of work, the work was already done. This is their award more than mine and I think that’s how I truly feel."
For all his unbelievable show-stopping pace and outright talent, Senatla is as grounded as they come, taking time to meet and greet almost every person in the building after receiving his award. That's a fair bit of hand shaking considering the World Rugby Awards was held in the biggest hotel in London! Yet for those that have seen him on the series, it's nothing out of the ordinary.
What is extraordinary though is his pace. Commentators over the years have waxed lyrical about 'The bullet train', typically after he has blitzed around the outside of a defence and is leaving players in his wake. But is he the fastest on the series?
"Carlin [Isles], he's quick but he's way off. There's Carlin, and then there's the rest of us," he said. "There's also Perry [Baker] who I think is a tad quicker than the rest of the pack, but surely Carlin is first and maybe him second. And it's pecking orders from the back there."
Some would be quick to argue that Senatla's pace is up there with both Isles and Baker. A look back at the 2015/16 series, particularly events like the Cape Town Sevens where the South African showed his blistering pace against Kenya to score from deep inside his own half. The finished product you see on the world stage, however, took years in the making.
"I've always been quick," he said. "I think most of it was actually powered by my dad because we used to go to the field and he'd make me run and I literally begged him to take me there so I got to love the running. I was a runner from a very, very young age. Soccer actually came before rugby, rugby just came now. I've played it socially my whole life but I really got into love and have so much passion for the sport only after school."
Back in August, Senatla made the 6 000km trip over the South Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro to become part of Sevens' illustrious debut at the Olympic Games. His four tries, including a brace against Australia in a crucial quarterfinal match, helped the BlitzBoks to a bronze medal after they beat Japan 54-14.
"I think it was quite incredible, not only just playing but playing in a nation that is not rugby orientated," he said. "I think the dynamics of the game makes it so available for people get involved, even with people that hadn’t experienced rugby at all so seeing that and being part of the great team South Africa was pretty much incredible for us."
An Olympic bronze medal, runner-up in the World Series with South Africa, 66 tries and the World Rugby Player of the Year 2016 - who better to ask if we have seen the best of Sevens yet?
"Not by a long shot. We've still got to grow a whole lot," insisted Senatla. "When I think of playing when I started and where it is now it is growing incredibly and now, it being an Olympic sport, we know that other countries can bring so much money into it to keep it alive. It is going to get tougher and you are going to see it bring so much and eventually the equivalent to the XVs I think."
Meanwhile, Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell is excited about the start of the 2016/17 World Rugby Sevens Series as the BlitzBoks start their quest for targets they are hoping to reach this season.
The Springbok Sevens team arrived in Dubai earlier on Monday and Powell is looking forward to a strong start to the season, but said they have some long-term goals set as well during the series.
"It will be important for us to start strong again," said Powell.
"We ended the previous season well with the Olympic Games and all that came with that, but this is a new season and a new start for us again. We need out of the block really well by performing in Dubai and then in Cape Town a week later."
Powell is also keen to get the season underway as part of a four-year cycle that will culminate in Tokyo in 2020 when the next Olympic Games will take place.
"We will be bringing in a number of new faces during the season as we have to increase our depth. Some of the current players will not make it through to the next Olympics, so it will be important to identify and develop the right players with an eye to the future," Powell said.
"We must not lose sight of the fact that we still need to be in a position to win tournaments and the overall series, but the additional goal of finding the next generation of players adds to what promises to be an exciting series for all of us."
The team will have a flush out session on Monday before fine-tuning their preparations in the days leading up to the tournament kick-off on Friday. South Africa face Uganda, Scotland and the USA in pool play.
@WorldRugby & SA Rugby