MONASTIR – Having already played at the Mustapha Ben Jannet Stadium in Monastir, Tunisia, will give the Springbok Women’s Sevens squad an advantage in the Rugby Africa Women’s Sevens tournament this weekend.
That is the view of captain Zintle Mpupha after their arrival in Tunisia at the northern tip of Africa, where the best 12 teams from the continent will contest podium places on Saturday and Sunday.
Mpupha will lead a team with only a handful of players having not played in Tunisia before, and said the knowledge of local conditions will allow them to focus on their own game and what they want to achieve out of the tournament.
“We are ready, we know what is expected – that experience of the squad will enhance our performances,” said Mpupha.
South Africa did not participate in 2018 but won the previous five tournaments.
They beat Kenya by 17-12 in the final in 2017, also in Monastir, and are yet to return to South Africa without the gold medal, having won in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 as well.
One of the most experienced members of that squad, Nadine Roos, said they are treating the tournament as any other.
“The fact that we need to play in the final to qualify for HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series Qualifiers will not determine our mindset.”
Roos was MVP at the Centrale Sevens and Nancy Sevens in France in May, which was their last trip abroad.
But that is not adding extra pressure to perform well in Tunisia.
“I don’t see myself as having to perform as an individual as we all have roles to fulfil in the squad,” said Roos. "As a wing, I need to score tries and when I move closer to the ball in a play-making role, I need to create opportunities for my teammates. We are a pretty versatile squad, and all are comfortable in what is expected of us.”
For forward Rights Mkhari, there is added motivation.
“We want to make South Africa proud, but I also want to make my family proud and all those in the country who supports us,” said the Limpopo athlete. “We are playing some tough teams here, but we prepared very well for this tournament and I have faith in the rest of my team.”
Mkhari has already helped the Springbok Women to qualify for the 15-a-side Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2021, and the top try-scorer of that tournament hopes to add to her tally in the sevens jersey as well.
Meanwhile, the Springbok Women’s Sevens team will participate in Tunisia knowing that they will cannot qualify for the Tokyo2020 Olympic Games.
A note on the Rugby Africa website stated that, even if the South Africans win the Qualifier in Tunisia, they will not qualify for the Games as they have not met the qualifying standard set by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC).
As it stands, the best the Springboks can do is qualify to play in the World Series qualifier tournament at next year’s Hong Kong Sevens, but only if they finish first or second in Tunisia.
SA Rugby has yet to comment on the Olympic qualification issue.
The Springboks Pool B fixtures are (in CAT time):
11:06 South Africa v Uganda
13:20 South Africa v Zimbabwe
15:54 South Africa v Zambia