Baker hunting Blitzbok scalp

2016-12-09 23:56
Perry Baker (Getty Images)

Cape Town - USA Sevens stand-in captain Perry Baker will be one of the star attractions at the Cape Town Sevens taking place this weekend.

The lightening quick former NFL player has made significant strides in the seven-man game since “not having a clue what rugby was about” as a teenager.

Fast forward 12 years and rugby is the fastest growing team sport stateside and Baker, 30, is at the peak of his powers and loving life on the Sevens circuit.

The Florida-native steadily rose through the ranks since he took up the game with the Daytona Beach Coconuts and thereafter joined the Tiger Rugby Academy. Baker, whose brother Dallas and uncle Wes played in the NFL, has found the balance between having fun and working hard in the abbreviated version of the oval game. Through blood, sweat and sacrifice, he has developed into an all-round athlete and is not just the raw paceman he once was. Since earning his Sevens World Series debut in 2014, affable Baker has worked tirelessly on his breakdown skills, tackle technique and kicking game. He has pushed past his limits in order to hone his craft. His national coach, Mike Friday, now describes him as a “proper rugby player” but Baker refuses to rest on his laurels and pat himself on the back.

“I want to be one of the greatest to play this game,” Baker told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.

“I also want my coaches and team-mates to keep believing in me and pushing me to become even better because you can always improve as a professional athlete… Seabelo Senatla is a great player and I watch his game to figure out how he scores so many tries.”

Baker’s competitive edge was instilled in him from a young age owing to growing up with an older brother. It reached a point where the brothers couldn’t be on the same team anymore because the need to compete against each other was so strong. While some regarded it as nothing more than sibling rivalry, Baker believes it developed his inner-drive to be the best.

This weekend, Baker is braced for the tough challenge of facing the in-form Blitzboks on day one of the Cape Town Sevens event, as well as Australia and Russia. USA are drawn in Pool A with hosts South Africa, who are tipped as odds-on favourites to claim back-to-back titles in the Mother City after dominating the field in Dubai. While Baker respects the Blitzboks, he regards the USA as worthy adversaries and is delighted by his nation’s progress in Sevens.

“We look forward to playing the top teams on the world circuit because in order to be the best you have to beat the best,” the Eagles Sevens skipper said. “Anything can happen in a game of rugby and it’s about going out there, having fun and competing hard. When I first joined the USA Sevens team we were ranked 13th in the world and for us now to be called contenders is testament to our hard work. It’s unbelievable how fast things can change. It ultimately comes down to mindset. We believe we can do it and we believe in each other.”

In the absence of regular skipper Madison Hughes, who is on a two-month recovery and conditioning programme, the man degreed in criminal justice has assumed the captaincy and he is taking the leadership role in his stride. While the effervescent Baker has the gift of the gab, he stresses the importance of leading predominantly through on-field actions rather than words. As Peter de Villiers often said: Talk is cheap and money buys whisky.

“My aim is to lead from the front. I’m the type of player who lets his game speak for itself and I feel the boys will feed off of that approach. When things aren’t going to plan and I’m not able to produce with the ball, the key is to stay involved and let them know I’m still in the game. I’m not going to let the captaincy put pressure on me and I’ll remain who I am.”

South Africa, top seeds in Pool A, face the USA at 16:10 on Saturday at the Cape Town Stadium.

Read more on:    usa  |  sevens  |  rugby

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