The Australasian leg of the World Series will be played in Hamilton next weekend (25-26 January) and in Sydney a week later (1-2 February). The Blitzboks are departing for New Zealand on Saturday.
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell made seven changes to the squad that won the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens and were losing finalists at the HSBC Cape Town Sevens late last year, including handing the captaincy to Gans for the first time.
Dylan Sage, Rosko Specman (Vodacom Bulls), Ruhan Nel and Seabelo Senatla (DHL Stormers) have returned to their Vodacom Super Rugby teams, Soyizwapi and Kurt-Lee Arendse were ruled out due to ankle and knee strains respectively and Ryan Oosthuizen is rotated with Werner Kok, who is returning to the squad after his short stint in France at the end of last year.
Angelo Davids, Branco du Preez, Impi Visser, Cecil Afrika, Muller du Plessis and Gans are the new players in the team, while Sako Makata has also recovered from injury and will travel along as the official reserve.
Du Preez (71 tournaments) is the most experienced Blitzbok in the World Series and Afrika the highest points’ scorer (1440 points), and they afford Powell the luxury of well-proven experience alongside the younger crop of Blitzboks.
Powell was mindful of all the changes to the squad, but said it was part of the season’s planning.
“We knew we would be losing the four players to their Vodacom Super Rugby teams after the opening two tournaments and the whole squad are aware of our plans for the remainder of the season,” said Powell.
“Everyone knows when and where they will be given an opportunity and I am confident that this group will do well on this trip.
“It is great to have the likes of Branco, Cecil and Werner back as well as Stedman, Muller and Angelo, all of whom played well during our warm-up tournaments in Germany, Kenya and England last year. Our pool in Hamilton is pretty tough and the new format will punish teams not performing in each match.”
South Africa is in Pool B alongside England, Kenya and Japan, with only the top-placed teams going through to the semi-finals as the quarter-final round has been scrapped.
On the decision to hand Gans the captaincy, Powell was complimentary of the former SA Schools, Junior Springbok and Vodacom Blue Bulls player, who made his Blitzbok debut three years ago.
“Stedman is part of the leadership group and did very well when he captained a very senior Academy squad in Dubai last month,” said Powell.
“He is also playing very well and that helps. We do have some very experienced players in decision making roles too and that will help Stedman as well.”
The Springbok Sevens squad:
1. Chris Dry (70 tournaments, 354 matches; 480 points, 96 tries)
2. Angelo Davids (two tournaments, 11 matches, 10 points - 2 tries))
3. Impi Visser (11 tournaments, 57 matches, 65 points, 13 tries)
4. Zain Davids (20 tournaments, 100 matches; 65 points, 13 tries)
5. Werner Kok (47 tournaments, 240 matches; 530 points, 106 tries)
6. JC Pretorius (seven tournaments, 39 matches; 70 points; 14 tries)
7. Branco du Preez (71 tournaments, 361 matches; 1302 points; 94 tries, 413 conversions, 1 penalty, 1 drop goal)
8. Selvyn Davids (16 tournaments, 81 matches; 334 points: 35 tries, 78 conversions, 1 penalty)
9. Justin Geduld (48 tournaments, 251 matches; 1016 points; 109 tries, 234 conversions, 1 penalty)
10. Cecil Afrika (62 tournaments, 324 matches; 1440 points - 175 tries, 281 conversions, 1 penalty)
11. Muller du Plessis (10 tournaments, 44 matches; 155 points, 31 tries)
12. Stedman Gans (captain, 18 tournaments, 85 matches; 130 points, 26 tries)
13. Sako Makata (six tournaments, 25 matches; 10 points, two tries) – official reserve.