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Blitzbok coach Powell faced with tough calls as Habana bids for Olympic spot

One of the most difficult selections for Team South Africa at the Rio Olympics will be the Springbok Sevens team.

The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) will announce the entire Olympic squad on Thursday in Johannesburg, and many rugby fans will be waiting with bated breath to see who made the final 12-man team for the Blitzboks.

Coach Neil Powell has run the rule over a 19-strong training squad over the last month at the Blitzboks’ base in Stellenbosch, with their last tournament an invitational against Zimbabwe and Western Province at the beginning of July.

The man who impressed the most over that weekend was former Southern Kings utility back Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi, was the man of the match in the final that was won by the Blitzboks.

Soyizwapi is making a late bid for the Olympics, but it has probably come too late as Powell has an embarrassment of riches to choose from.

The biggest talking point in the build-up to the final announcement is whether Springbok star wing Bryan Habana will make the cut. Habana – the record try-scorer for the Boks, with 64 touchdowns in 117 Tests – played in just two tournaments (Las Vegas and Vancouver) during the last World Sevens Series, and joined the Olympic training camp late after first finishing his season with Toulon in France.

Powell said at the time that Habana’s late arrival “could count against him when I make my final selection” for the Olympics, but he rocked up in Stellenbosch in time for the invitational tournament, which would’ve count in his favour.

While he may not have done much on the field during his two tournament appearances in Las Vegas and Vancouver, Habana’s star quality and experience in high-pressure situations in 15-man rugby could just see him sneak in via the back door.

There are around six or seven players are may be considered definite selections – captains Kyle Brown and Philip Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Seabelo Senatla, Cheslin Kolbe, Cecil Afrika and perhaps Juan de Jongh.

That would leave five positions up for grabs, where another 15s Bok in Francois Hougaard may get the nod after performing strongly in four tournaments last season.

The World Sevens Player of the Year in 2015, Werner Kok, eventually returned late in the season after a lengthy absence with a knee injury, and probably did enough to earn a ticket to Rio.

The last three places will be fiercely contested, and there is little room for Powell to manoeuvre. Justin Geduld and Branco du Preez have been stalwarts of the Blitzboks over the last few years, and it would be a massive call to leave both of them out of the mix.

Rosko Specman has also had a stellar last two years in the game, but Powell also needs to ensure that he has enough forwards to win the physical battle and complement the speedsters out wide.

That is where loose forwards such as Tim Agaba and Chris Dry will come into contention, while Habana will be competing with Geduld, Du Preez, Specman, Soyizwapi and Ruhan Nel for possibly the final backline berth.

All be revealed on Thursday at Sascoc House in Johannesburg, with the Blitzboks playing in the Olympic Sevens from August 9-11. They will take on Australia, France and Spain in Pool B.

Possible Springbok Sevens Olympic Squad
Kyle Brown (captain), Kwagga Smith, Seabelo Senatla, Cecil Africa, Cheslin Kolbe, Juan de Jongh, Philip Snyman, Francois Hougaard, Werner Kok, Justin Geduld, Bryan Habana, Tim Agaba.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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