The Blitzboks avoided slipping on a large banana peel as they held a powerful, spirited Kenya team at bay in their opening game of the Dubai Sevens on Thursday evening, winning 17-12.
A win will go a long way in settling the South Africans’ nerves, as the memory of a mediocre campaign last season and the need to quickly reintegrate a few fifteens stalwarts as quickly as possible were two immediate challenges that could’ve played on their minds.
The fact that Neil Powell’s troops haven’t exactly been placed in an easy group added even more urgency to the need to make a good start.
They didn’t exactly make a good start, initially falling foul to some poor tackling on the Kenyan counterattack and frustrating handling errors.
Ryan Oosthuizen, one of the upcoming players in the group, exemplified that initial waywardness.
His preparation was hardly ideal after he forgot his match jersey back at the team hotel, prompting a frantic shirt to find an unnumbered replacement in his size.
He was on hand to receive Ruhan Nel’s delightful skip pass to score South Africa’s opener, but then missed the vital tackle that led to Alvin Otieno’s reply for the Kenyans.
Oosthuizen was hardly the only Blitzbok to look rusty.
Nel himself infringed early, while Rosko Specman, back after his promising 2019 with the Bulls, knocked on a routine ball in midfield.
It certainly didn’t help that Daniel Taabu’s delightful chip to the corner bounced kindly enough for Vincent Onyala to help Kenya take the lead.
However, the class of Specman shone as he sparked a comeback.
It was his break from a second half kickoff that got the Blitzboks out of their own half, before he evaded four defenders to level the scores.
From there on, the South Africans showed familiar patience and power to score the clincher through replacement Seabelo Senatla, before sturdy defence denied the Kenyans a comeback.
Blitzboks – Tries: Ryan Oosthuizen, Rosko Specman, Seabelo Senatla. Conversion: Justin Geduld.
Kenya – Tries: Alvin Otieno, Vincent Onyala. Conversion: Daniel Taabu.