23 July 2014
Bryan Habana, the Springboks’ all-time leading try scorer, was placed on standby for the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday after a decision by his French club, Toulon, to release him for the Games.
This time of the year is usually a rest period for French Top 14 players and Habana, the scorer of 55 test tries, was previously refused permission to join the Blitzbokke. Now Toulon and the French Rugby Federation have decided to make an exception.
Since the Springbok flyer’s release came only after the deadline for the submission of Commonwealth Games squads, Habana will not join the team in Glasgow. However, should an injury occur, he would be cleared to play.
Habana and Schalk Brits, who plays for English club, Saracens, were originally named in the South African squad, but had to withdraw after their leagues refused to release them.
Another recently enforced change to the make-up of the squad saw Mark Richards being drafted in after Cheslin Kolbe withdrew because of a knee injury. Kolbe’s place was due to be taken by Warrick Gelant, but he also suffered an injury.
With Rio de Janeiro set to mark the Olympic debut of Sevens rugby, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games will be an early dress rehearsal for one of sport’s biggest events.
While IRB Sevens World Series champions, New Zealand, who finished the season with four titles in five tournaments, will be regarded as favourites to lift gold in Scotland, the Blitzbokke will also be in the running for victory.
They won two events during the 2013/14 World Series season, but saw their title chase derailed by a rash of injuries late in the season. They, nonetheless, finished second in the final standings and, having had time to allow some players to recover from injuries, will be serious title contenders.
Success against New Zealand
The Blitzbokke have also proved in the past that they have what it takes to handle New Zealand, especially in title-deciding clashes. When they won the Las Vegas Sevens at the beginning of the year, it was their fifth successive win over the Kiwis in Cup finals.
Four years ago, at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the South African Sevens team won the bronze medal. After going unbeaten in pool play, with wins over Wales, Tonga and India, the Blitzbokke edged Scotland 10-7 in the quarter-finals.
They fell 7-17 to Australia in an upset in the semi-finals, but went on to defeat England 17-14 for third place. New Zealand beat Australia 24-17 to claim gold.