Cape Town – Rosco
Specman is just the latest, long-time SA Sevens star to have a crack at flying
in the face of recent historical patterns … by excelling in Super Rugby or,
beyond it, the Test landscape.
29-year-old flier bade a fitting enough farewell to the shorter format over the
weekend, being the lone Blitzbok to make the cut for the Cape Town Sevens
“Dream Team” as his side ended as bronze medallists.
scored one of the two tries as the Blitzboks partly atoned for the
disappointment of failing to make the main showpiece by seeing off arch-rivals
New Zealand 10-5 in the third-place playoff, and looked more consistently
dangerous than most Blitzboks colleagues over the course of the two days.
But at a
time when Neil Powell’s charges are so clearly rebuilding anyway following
their Sevens Series world title success of a season earlier, they will have to
make do for the remainder of the 2018/19 global campaign – resuming with the
Hamilton leg in late January – without stalwart figure Specman.
He has signed
a two-year deal at Loftus to represent both the Bulls in Super Rugby and Blue
Bulls in the Currie Cup, and will now enter pre-season training in earnest for
the 2019 SANZAAR competition.
without a confirmed head coach, the Bulls entertain the Stormers in their
opening fixture on February 16.
visitors, of course, are the franchise who currently sport the services of
Seabelo Senatla, another staple presence in the Blitzboks’ ranks for several
years but now also dedicated – at least for the time being – to the XVs
a vastly-decorated Sevens player for some four years from 2013 onward, earning
a reputation as one of the most prolific predators worldwide … a perfect blend
of speed merchant and clinical opportunist, with defensive grit into the
25, he won gold with the Blitzboks at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
and was part of the squad who earned bronze at the Rio Olympics in 2016 (although
he missed the actual playoff match for that status through injury and was
sportingly presented with the medal by his replacement Francois Hougaard).
It has been
well less than plain sailing for Senatla, however, since returning to XVs play
at Newlands, amidst a wave of hype and excitement.
injuries have played a significant role in curtailing his effectiveness, the
lean wing has generally found Super Rugby for the Stormers a much tougher
proposition, personally, than increasingly diluted Currie Cup fare for WP.
positional play and decision-making has often come up short of expectation, and
the more claustrophobic space on offer a lot of the time has limited his
ability to burst across the gain line.
able to start 2019 with a clean slate fitness-wise, Senatla has the chance to
make up lost ground, although he will be jockeying with the likes of Sergeal
Petersen, JJ Engelbrecht and versatile back-three members Dillyn Leyds and SP
Marais for starting spots out wide.
his slow transition is simply a reminder that crowd-pleasing success at Sevens
isn’t an automatic ticket to “wow factor” in the more uncompromising landscape
of Super Rugby, in particular.
where the Bulls will be hoping Specman, armed by prior Currie Cup experience
with the Sharks, Pumas and Cheetahs, can rousingly bust the trend: they see him
as a vital provider of X-factor, not something that presented itself in
bag-loads as they ended 2018 Super Rugby in lowly 12th overall.
Senatla, Specman is no physical juggernaut at 1.76m and 85kg (though he has the
advantage of slightly superior weight to his former Sevens ally) but that
hasn’t stopped other “little guys” like Damian McKenzie and Cheslin Kolbe (now
Euro-based) from illuminating the predominantly southern-hemisphere
He is a fine
gap-tacker at Sevens, aided by his sense of awareness and wonderful
acceleration out of the blocks, and perhaps his rich experience now from all
forms of rugby will prove a blessing for him at the Bulls: he will be competing
with men like the muscular Travis Ismaiel, Duncan Matthews, Divan Rossouw and
Springbok “comeback kid” Cornal Hendricks – cleared to resume rugby at this
tier after much-publicised health problems – for wing jerseys.
also have in their ranks Tim Agaba, the mobile Ugandan-born loose forward who
is also no stranger to the Blitzboks but was curtailed to one appearance in
Super Rugby last year: he still has plenty to prove in the competition.
that another popular Sevens campaigner, Kwagga Smith, is also committed
full-time to XVs with the Lions nowadays, but tended to blow either hot and
cold for them in Super Rugby last season with not much in between.
A 158-cap SA
Sevens veteran, Smith is presently furthering his “re-education” in the 15-man
game with a stint in the Japanese Top League ahead of Super Rugby 2019.
open-side flanker, he was handed a maiden Test opportunity for Rassie Erasmus’s
experimental side in the opening match of the international season earlier this
year against Wales in Washington DC, but failed to make the desired impact
either at the breakdown or in open play in the defeat and never resurfaced in
green and gold as the season ground onward.
He also went
largely “missing” in the Super Rugby final against the Crusaders, where the
visitors from Johannesburg were soundly beaten 37-18 despite another spirited
those backdrops, Specman proving a genuine force to be reckoned with for the
Bulls in Super Rugby would be a breath of fresh air …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: