Dubai Sevens: Bryan Habana says he would have struggled against modern sprinters in the game

South Africa great glad with the progress rugby has made at the grassroot level in UAE

Bryan Habana, ambassador for World Sevens Series sponsors HSBC, at a training session at Mawakeb School in Barsha​​​​​,​ as part of the UAE Rugby Federation’s player pathway programme. Courtesy: Kyle Kingsley Green / HSBC
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The rugby legend who once raced a cheetah reckons he might have struggled to keep up with some of the modern stars of sevens, even at his peak.

Two converted 100m sprinters, America’s Carlin Isles and Australia’s Trae Williams will go up against each other on Friday, in a competition in which rapid wingers liberally abound.

Watching on from the stands at the Dubai Rugby Sevens will be Bryan Habana, the South Africa great who was known as one of the fastest players in the sport until his retirement last year.

In 2007, a few months before playing a starring role in the Springboks winning the World Cup, he even took on a cheetah in a sprint race for charity.

Habana, 36, believes a number of his own compatriots who are in Dubai this weekend would have given him a run for his money.

“Seabelo Senatla, Rosko Specman, Werner Kok – who I think is a lot faster than is perceived – and Cecil Afrika in his heyday without a doubt,” Habana said, when asked if anyone could have challenged him for speed. “Rosko and Seabelo would definitely have given me a lot of heat.”

Listing those names is a reminder of the remarkable strength of South Africa in sevens, especially when considering Kok and Afrika are not even in the full Blitzboks team in Dubai.

Instead they are part of a SA 7s Academy side playing in the second-tier International Invitational. They opened their campaign with a 40-0 thrashing of Rambling Jesters on Thursday.

South Africa will be hoping for a return to winning ways after a disappointing season which they started as series champions, yet ended in fourth.

Habana is predicting better this season, especially when the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, one of the stars of their World Cup win in Japan, appear in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics.

Bryan Habana ran a training session for girls and boys at the Mawakeb School in Barsha on Thursday. Courtesy: Kyle Kingsley Green / HSBC

“A lot of the core group that won the series in 2017-18 then went on to try and ply their trade in the 15-man game,” Habana said.

“The likes of Specman, Cornal Hendricks and Senatla showed their stuff on the Super Rugby circuit. With the carrot of the Olympics this year, a lot of those guys have been called back.

“We could even see someone like Cheslin Kolbe, who was an absolute star in Japan, come back ahead of Tokyo 2020.

“He was a part of the [Rio] 2016 group, and he has absolutely amazing fortitude. We saw what he could do on the XVs fields, so you could imagine what havoc he could wreak in the sevens game.”

Habana is in Dubai this weekend in his role as an ambassador for the World Sevens Series sponsors HSBC.

He was straight down to business on Thursday morning as he ran a training session for a group of teenage girls and boys at Mawakeb School in Barsha, as part of the UAE Rugby Federation’s player pathway programme.

“These women probably never even have thought to pick up a rugby ball before,” Habana said.

“It is brilliant that rugby has been installed in Dubai schools’ curriculum, and that it has been picked up and enjoyed. Long may it continue.”