Any of the passengers onboard the Emirates flight from Cape Town to Dubai on Sunday would have been forgiven for taking pictures of the “Blitzboks” with them on the same flight.
However, if they were looking for national coach and captain, Neil Powell and Siviwe Soyizwapi, they would have realised that this was in fact not the Blitzboks at all.
It was the SA Rugby Sevens Academy side, on their way to the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens where they will contest the International Invitational tournament and face the Rambling Jesters, France Military and Russia in their pool on Thursday and Friday.
The Academy squad – coached by Marius Schoeman and Sandile Ngcobo – may boast experienced Blitzboks such as Branco du Preez, Cecil Afrika and Werner Kok, but the captain’s armband was handed to Stedman Gans.
The midfielder admitted it is a huge honour to lead the team, especially one with two former World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year winners in Afrika and Kok, as well as Du Preez, the country's most capped sevens international.
“To captain this team is pretty exciting and I and proud of doing it,” Gans said upon departure.
“We have a lot of very experienced players in the group, so it will be an easy task. I think to just play in the same team as Cecil, Branco and Werner is already a huge honour, to captain them even more so.”
Gans is one of nine players who played for the Blitzboks last season, with only Hacjivah Dayimani, Darren Adonis and Macolm Jaer uncapped in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“Everybody knows the bigger picture and where you fit into the season's planning, so there are no bad feelings for not making the Blitzboks team for the first tournament,” said Gans.
“The coaching staff explained their plans, and everyone will get a chance with everybody in the end hoping to make the team that will go to the Olympics next year.
“We have a very strong squad indeed, but that potential and ability must still meet the desire when we go out there if we want to do well. All of us are very excited, and we can't wait to go and play.”
Schoeman said the squad's depth is very healthy.
“The guys are pushing each other for places no doubt, we have a very strong squad,” said Schoeman.
“The Academy's main role is to provide the Blitzboks with high calibre athletes and to give players playing opportunities, as is the case with Werner Kok this week. He just returned from Toulouse where he was a medical joker, so he will play for us this weekend to get back into the groove.”Distributed by APO Group on behalf of South African Rugby Union.
Note to editors:
Audio notes of Stedman Gans and Marius Schoeman (both Afrikaans and English) can be downloaded here (http://bit.ly/2DxroiX).