JC Pretorius has been promoted to the Springbok Sevens starting squad for the Sydney Sevens, with Blitzboks coach Neil Powell handing the former SA Schools flanker his World Rugby Sevens Series debut.
The 21-year-old Pretorius, who will play as a hooker in his first tournament for South Africa, travelled to Australasia with the team as official reserve and did not get a run in Hamilton, where the Blitzboks placed fourth in the New Zealand Sevens.
However, Powell tweaked his squad for the Australia leg, to be played in Spotless Stadium at Olympic Park this weekend, with Pretorius taking over from Kyle Brown in the forwards.
“It is all part of our plan to give the younger players more opportunities as we are expanding the depth and experience in our squad,” said Powell.
“Senior guys in the team, such as Kyle and Philip Snyman, will not be around forever and JC needs this opportunity to develop. This is a great opportunity for him. If we named him 13th player again and we had no injuries, it would have been an opportunity wasted to give him the exposure and experience of tournament play.”
Brown was due to move past Frankie Horne as South Africa’s most experienced Blitzbok ever, as both have played 68 times in the World Series.
“We realised that and it did make the selection a tough and unfortunate one, but we must do what is best for the team. Kyle could still get that chance as he is the official reserve and will be on the field if we pick up any injuries,” said Powell.
Debuts and potential records aside, the coach had his mind pretty much focussed on a better defensive effort from last weekend. Powell also wants more control when in possession.
“We got our roles on defence mixed up and the one-on-one tackles were not good,” said Powell.
“To concede 13 tries on the second day was just not good enough. We have gone through tournaments where we did not even concede that much on both days combined. We worked hard to fix that.
“We played our best sevens at times in Hamilton when we controlled our possession and we want to improve even more in that area.”
For Pretorius, who celebrated his 21st birthday in Sydney earlier in the week, it is a dream come true. He hails from the same school as Kwagga Smith (HTS Middelburg, Mpumalanga) and hopes to make a similar impact as his schoolboy hero did.
“We are from the same school, play in the same position and I was always trying to play the way he does by bringing a huge work rate to the game,” said Pretorius.
“I can never be Kwagga, only JC, but there is nothing wrong by trying to emulate him. I have always been a hard worker and I hope to bring that work rate and energy to the team this weekend.”
Turning 21 and debuting for your country in the same week is huge and Pretorius said that he is enjoying the week thus far.
“I could not be with my family on my birthday, but these guys are my second family and I could not be happier,” he said.
“Getting the chance to contribute to the Blitzboks and to represent my country makes me extremely grateful and blessed. I cannot wait for the tournament to start.”