CAPE TOWN, Nov 4 (Reuters) - They may have had to settle for bronze at the recent World Cup but a number of South Africa’s leading 15-a-side players could be going for gold when rugby returns to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year.
Leading try-scorer Bryan Habana and centre Damian de Allende are among a number of full Springboks that have been included in a sevens training squad to be held later this month, the South African Rugby Union announced on Wednesday.
Habana, who has 64 test tries, has played sevens before, appearing in two tournaments when he first burst onto the scene in 2004.
Others in the training squad with full test experience are Juan de Jongh, Cornal Hendricks, Francois Hougaard, Ryan Kankowski, Oupa Mohoje, Lwazi Mvovo and Warren Whiteley as SARU make a clear statement about their ambitions in Rio.
“The announcement of this group is a significant achievement for us and it is the culmination of a lot of hard work behind the scenes,” SARU CEO Jurie Roux said in a statement.
“The forthcoming season is the most important in the history of Sevens rugby. The new, expanded World Series and the Olympic Games are two huge challenges and we at SARU want to make sure we give our Springbok Sevens team the best possible chance of success.”
Olympic officials are keen for some of rugby’s big names to grace the stage in Rio but most of the leading nations have yet to indicate whether they are likely to stick with their specialist sevens players.
One exception is New Zealand, with Sonny Bill Williams, fresh from winning the World Cup on Saturday, included in the All Blacks sevens squad for next year.
Springbok duo Hougaard and Kankowski have also agreed to be part of the sevens side for the 2016 season, putting aside their Super Rugby ambitions to help coach Neil Powell from early in the year.
“The signing of players such as Francois Hougaard and Ryan Kankowski is a real coup for us,” Roux added.
“It means they will focus solely on the seven-a-side game in the coming season, bringing their unique skill sets that our sevens department has identified as being ideal for the code.”
Since taking over the coaching reins in 2014, Powell, has steered the Springbok Sevens to second place on the World Series log, the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and automatic qualification for the Olympic Games.
The sevens tournament in Rio will run from Aug. 6-11 and is the first time it will appear at the Olympics. The 15-man game was played in four previous Olympics, the last being in 1924 when the gold medal was won by the U.S.
South Africa training squad: Cecil Afrika, Tim Agaba, Ryno Benjamin, Kyle Brown, Branco du Preez, Carel du Preez, Damian de Allende, Stephan Dippenaar, Chris Dry, Juan de Jongh, Justin Geduld, Warrick Gelant, Lungelo Gosa, Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Francois Hougaard, Frankie Horne, Dewald Human, Ryan Kankowski, Werner Kok, Cheslin Kolbe, Jaco Kriel, Oupa Mohoje, Lwazi Mvovo, Sibahle Maxwane, Ruhan Nel, Sandile Ngcobo, Sphamandla Ngcobo, Seabelo Senatla, Philip Snyman, Kwagga Smith, Rosko Specman, Warren Whiteley. (Reporting by Nick Said. Editing by Patrick Johnston)