Not even Horne is safe in scrum for a Blitzbok jersey
‘Everyone knows they have to perform or someone as good will take your spot’
THE first casualty in the race for a place in the SA Sevens team at next year’s Olympic Games is Frankie Horne, but his peers are certain the veteran forward won’t go down without a fight.
Horne, 32, is the most experienced player in SA Sevens history, having appeared in 71 tournaments since 2007; he would have participated in his 69th consecutive tournament in Dubai next week.
Instead, the No 3 jersey associated with Horne has been handed to Sevens rookie Francois Hougaard, the combative halfback who won Currie Cup and Super Rugby titles with the Bulls and has 35 Springbok caps.
Hougaard is one of more than a dozen players from the 15-man code that have been included in Powell’s enlarged Sevens squad with a view to ensuring that the best available talent represents South Africa at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Like Horne, Stephan Dippenaar has surrendered his place to a crossover player in Western Province captain Juan de Jongh.
“Obviously there are guys who are going to be disappointed,” said Seabelo Senatla, who led the 2014-15 World Sevens Series with 47 tries.
“If you’re working hard to make it every day and you don’t make it, you’ll feel pretty bleak about that.
“The guys are hurt because they were gunning for a spot, but it’s not in bad essence... that shows that being part of this system means something to them. We feel for them, but only 12 guys can go.”
Horne has no intention of missing out on the Olympics. He has been named to captain the SARU Sevens Academy team, known as the Samurai Internationals, at the Dubai International tournament next week, and he will be determined to use the opportunity to keep the heat on Hougaard by showcasing his superior Sevens experience.
Dippenaar will also want to use the second-tier competition as a springboard back into Powell’s plans after the first two tournaments, while Tim Agaba and Siviwe Soyizwapi, formerly of the EP Kings, are readying to make their debut in the abbreviated format.
Senatla lauded the total commitment of players like Hougaard, Agaba and Soyizwapi in the new intake and credited them with creating a constructive competition for places.
“It’s been really tough for those guys,” he said. “The intensity is super-high and if you’re not used to it you are going to get niggles. You can see by the amount of guys falling out during practices that it’s really, really tough, but the guys that have slotted in have done a pretty good job.
“They’re learning fast and that’s why we’re seeing a few debutants in these two coming tournaments.
“Like everything in life, when you have to work hard for it, you appreciate it more. But we’ve always worked hard, and the competition in the team brings out the best in everyone.
“Everyone knows they have to perform or someone as good as you will take your spot. So you have to pull your weight and work hard for the person next to you.”
NO PRESSURE: SA Sevens debutant Francois Hougaard has been picked ahead of veteran Frankie Horne in the first squad of 2015-16.