Dubai – Mark down the name of Werner Kok as an integral element now of South Africa’s quest to grace and also win the maiden Rugby Sevens competition at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
He was named player of the tournament at the weekend’s atmospheric, hugely-attended Dubai Sevens -- as rightful a mantle as you could wish for; sometimes these laurels in rugby are dubiously distributed -- for his sparkling contribution to an unusually clear-cut SA triumph at the event and collectively sublime final day.
The 21-year-old will be a key source of youthful energy and dynamism for his country in this punishing, high-paced rugby code, up to and probably including the premier global multi-sport event in Brazil in the middle of next year.
Kok will be a useful balancer to established Blitzbokke stalwarts like Cecil Afrika, Kyle Brown and Frankie Horne ... the wise old heads of the squad, if you like.
He is also full-bloodedly committed to the Sevens cause for the big Olympics push, something that will be reassuring to coach Neil Powell as you can be pretty sure the likes of free-scoring speed merchant Seabelo Senatla, Cheslin Kolbe and Kwagga Smith will be delicately balancing Sevens with some XVs duty for their respective Stormers or Lions Super Rugby franchises.
Nelspruit-born Kok, currently based in Stellenbosch, has already placed on record that he will not be seduced by the more extended format until after the Olympics at the earliest (though when he does, he would like to push for an inside centre berth at either Western Province or an old favourite provincial team of his, the Free State Cheetahs).
He would naturally have been most obvious first pick on the official “Dream Team” sheet from the Dubai Sevens, which also featured compatriots Afrika and Smith; the rest of the side was made up of two players from surprise packages Australia, the losing finalists, and one each from Fiji and New Zealand.
“Who is that guy with all the hair?” I was twice asked by rugby-rookie companions from the United States among my travel-industry dominated group watching spells of the Sevens in Dubai, as Kok’s generous, bobbing blond locks seemed ever-present near the heat of the action in Blitzbokke matches.
While it came as some relief to them to learn that his surname is spelled the way it is, they were also able to appreciate the untiring, vibrant nature of his play both on attack and defence.
I was also able to help illuminate their inquiry by pointing them to a page of the official programme for Dubai, with Kok fittingly earmarked as his country’s “player to watch” and described as “one of the first names on (Powell’s) team sheet, having only broken through last season”.
Kok was especially prominent in arguably South Africa’s finest performance of their three on the decisive Saturday, when they left arch-rivals New Zealand unusually blank in the scoring department en route to a 28-0 semi-final humbling of them.
His beautifully-timed, genuinely knock-back tackles time after time clearly rattled the normally expressive All Black outfit, who ran increasingly laterally and impotently as a result and were clinically turned over as well while they unravelled from a mental point of view.
There was truly only one team in it by the time the dust had settled on the game, and you just felt from there that the Australians would not be able to live with the Blitzbokke in the showpiece, either – they didn’t, being thrashed 33-7 after a resilient enough start.
It has been a fairytale year for Kok, who already sports a Commonwealth Games gold medal from Glasgow, just months after reaching his birthday “key of the door” status, and when the travelling Sevens circus switches to Port Elizabeth on Saturday and Sunday, he will be having his second exposure to the home-held event for the currently second-placed South Africans on the IRB Sevens World Series ladder.
Though perhaps not an out-and-out gasman in the mould of Senatla or Kolbe, he is excellent at squeezing into half-gaps and then off-loading with suitable alertness and skill to strike runners looming nearby.
They say it is notoriously difficult for a team to pick itself up for tournament victory again in an immediate, back-to-back tournament like the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium one after a rousingly up-tempo showing in the one before.
But if someone like Kok is even 80 percent as fizzy as he was in Dubai, he will be a real handful once more.
*Rob Houwing has been visiting Dubai as a guest of Dubai Tourism.