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.
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.
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.
want to be one of the greatest to play this game,” Baker told Sport24 in an exclusive interview.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
Africa, top seeds in Pool A, face the USA at 16:10 on Saturday at the Cape Town