Tokyo Olympics heartache, ‘massive culture’ drive Siviwe Soyizwapi’s Blitzboks

France’s Ethan Dumortier tries to stop Blitzboks captain Siviwe Soyizwapi at the Dubai Sevens earlier this season. Picture: Ali Haider/EPA

France’s Ethan Dumortier tries to stop Blitzboks captain Siviwe Soyizwapi at the Dubai Sevens earlier this season. Picture: Ali Haider/EPA

Published Feb 12, 2022


Cape Town - The Blitzboks have been breaking all sorts of records in recent months, but not too long ago, they were in a dark place.

Last year’s Tokyo Olympics was supposed to be the culmination of a long build-up to the showpiece event for coach Neil Powell and his team, but once they got closer to Japan, it quickly became a nightmare.

The entire squad had to go into Covid-19 quarantine upon arrival in Tokyo as another passenger on their flight had tested positive.

Then Powell himself had to be isolated following the team’s training camp in Kagoshima, hundreds of kilometres away from the Olympic Village, after contracting Covid-19, and he couldn’t be present with the team for virtually the entire tournament.

After negotiating the group stages unbeaten, the Blitzboks lost 19-14 to Argentina in the quarter-finals, and the gold medal dream was over.

“Tokyo was the biggest disappointment in all of our careers – the players that were there. We’ve put it behind us – we’ve faced it, we’ve dealt with it. We’ve had a couple of meetings and sessions where we were brutally honest with each other, and we identified what went wrong,” Springbok Sevens captain Siviwe Soyizwapi told Independent Media recently.

“So, we can comfortably talk about it now, because it’s behind us. It was tough … it wasn’t easy being there. There’s no excuse for the performance that we put out there, but we’re over it.”

Soyizwapi was speaking after one of his sponsors, Under Armour, held a Mental Strength Symposium in Cape Town last week.

South African Paralympic athlete Ntando Mahlangu, heavyweight boxer Kevin Lerena, Blitzboks captain Siviwe Soyizwapi and Olympic gold medalists Tatjana Schoenmaker on stage at the Under Armour Mental Strength Symposium. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

The 29-year-old and his teammates have shown true grit to come back from such a difficult time in their careers at the Tokyo Olympics to reach unbelievable heights since.

They have gone on a 34-match unbeaten run in the World Sevens Series, and have won six consecutive tournaments, including four in the current season.

It is a remarkable run of form, and despite critics pointing out that sevens powerhouses Fiji and New Zealand have not participated due to Covid-19 protocols, Soyizwapi is not bothered by that.

“We’re doing well because we are playing as a team. Our culture’s massive – we always touch on that. Each and every player that runs on that field gives so much effort to the game, and for the brother next to him,” the former Southern Kings full-back said.

“We’re implementing the process really well at the moment, so I think it’s a couple of things that we stand for … that we are just living out there. And I really think it’s coming together nicely.

“Look, we can only play against teams that are in front of us. We’re not in control of which team can make it to the tournaments, or which team cannot. I agree – I think Fiji and New Zealand bring a different element to the game.

“Fiji are such an unpredictable team, and New Zealand bring the physicality. So, I wouldn’t say it’s because of that (their absence), but they do bring something different.

“We are actually keen to have them back, as I think it would be great for the young boys if they can get the opportunity to play against Fiji and New Zealand. They’ve always been our biggest rivals and foes.”

Next up for the Springbok Sevens side are tournaments in Singapore (April 9-10) and Vancouver (April 17-18), and Soyizwapi said he will return to the side for those events after sitting out the recent Seville triumph with a shoulder injury that he sustained in Malaga a week earlier.

But the big one for 2022 is the Rugby World Cup Sevens at Cape Town Stadium from September 9-11, which will also be Powell’s last tournament in charge before he joins the Sharks on a full-time basis as the defence coach.

“We need to stay humble. We’re doing so well that it could get to our heads. We’ll have to focus on keeping our feet on the ground,” Soyizwapi said about the World Cup.

“We don’t have to change anything, when it comes to any tournament. I really believe if we just play to the best of our ability and potential, I really think we can do well.

“The farewell (for Powell) will be very emotional. Coach is an integral part of the team, and plays a massive role in the squad and how far the system has gone. Hopefully we can make him proud before he leaves.”