Cape Town - It’s not often that an individual achievement overshadows the team in the Blitzboks squad, but Saturday was one such day as Seabelo Senatla managed not one but two milestones in an already illustrious Sevens career.
In scoring five tries on the first day – in which the Blitzboks followed up winning the first event of the season in Dubai by booking a quarterfinal in their home event against Fiji – Senatla became the fastest player in the history of the World Rugby Sevens Series to score 200 tries.
The free-scoring former World Sevens Player of the Year got to that mark in just 35 tournaments, making him the fifth man to do it. This is a whopping 16 events faster than the man that tops the try scoring list, England’s Dan Norton.
The 35 events in which he managed the milestone made it doubly special as it meant he would be awarded full Springbok colours, as is the norm with the Sevens team. All in all it made for a special day for the Welkom-born flyer.
“To get everything in one tournament, my 35th and the 200th try is pretty special, it’s actually surreal,” he said after try number 200, which was scored against France.
“As a player you don’t get many of those, so it’s one for the books for me. It’s great to be involved in a team like this, where personal accolades mean something, but don’t count as much. We’re looking for team accolades, so for me it’s all about putting my head down again and grinding".
Senatla had run onto the field ahead of the rest of the team to mark his 35th event and was greeted by a raucous standing ovation from the Cape Town crowd: “It (the atmosphere) was electric, I literally can’t describe it. To be received like that as an athlete in any code is amazing, and everything was extra special for it having happened at home".
Having started the day on 196 tries, Senatla went about making up the deficit quickly. He scored with his first touch in the gale force wind of Cape Town and 16 seconds into the Blitzboks’ opening game against Russia.
By halftime he was on a hat-trick and 199 not out, which meant he stayed on the field for the second half, perhaps to get the milestone monkey off his back.
In a performance in which the Blitzboks were sharper than they were in their first in Dubai last week, Senatla wouldn’t get his 200, but the team had put a marker down with a 40-5 win (six tries), even though the five-pointer conceded against the Russians suggested their defence is still not quite where it used to be.
Scoring the last try in the 31-5 win against the French would be Senatla’s 200th. One more in the feisty 26-7 win against Kenya took him to 201 overnight. A hallmark of Senatla’s early season form is a newfound ability to step out of tricky situations.
But before it sounds like it was the Senatla show, there were other Blitzboks to put up their hands in a performance on day one which didn’t necessarily get out of third gear, but was enough to get the job done.
Cecil Africa was the conductor-in-chief, Ruan Nel consistently ran great lines and Branco du Preez did a great job of kicking conversions in the blustery conditions.
Canada defeating Fiji earlier in the day has put the hosts under a little pressure, because it is the Islanders they face in the first quarterfinal of the day, which could put a dampener on things if they are eliminated at lunchtime.
The other quarterfinals feature one of last weekend’s semifinals in England against New Zealand, the giant-killing Canadians against the French and the United States against Argentina.