Rosko Specman, 29, is used to doing things in a hurry. It’s a job requirement for one of the fastest pairs of legs to grace a rugby field. Yet, in the surreal lighting of the twilight of his Sevens career and the dawn of a new 15-man journey, Specman displays a patience at odds with his on-field heroics.
In the aftermath of what can only be described by Blitzboks’ standards as a failure in Dubai, finishing sixth, the requirement now, as the Cape Town Sevens tournament approaches, is to stay focused and be patient while the team rebuilds. The metamorphosis might be ungainly at times, but if a team emerges capable of winning gold at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and the World Cup title in 2022, it will have been worth the effort.
For now, though, Sevens rugby must begin to deal with an exodus of regulars such as Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Kwagga Smith, Dylan Sage and Tim Agaba. Specman joins that list after signing for the Bulls, making the Cape Town tournament his Sevens swansong.
Since coming third in the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco earlier this year, on the face of it there is nothing lamentable about the march of players to 15-man rugby, which comes with the lure of Test rugby status and endorsement deals. The recent elevation of Nel and Smith to Springbok colours in the 15-man game is a sign that the system is working, and benefits both forms of the game in the way T20 cricket, in theory, is meant to unearth limited-overs talent. With the 15-man 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on the horizon, it’s conceivable that Nel and company are giving themselves the best opportunity to stake a claim for a ticket to Tokyo.
Japan via Pretoria?
Specman’s journey, for the time being at least, will take him to a Bulls franchise that is building an all-star team. “For the past two years, I’ve watched the Bulls closely. They’re building a new, young team. We always say they’re building a Golden State Blue Bulls, just like the (NBA basketball team) Golden State Warriors with all the stars in their team. That’s what I see. They play a type of game that I like,” Specman says excitedly.
The franchise has signed Specman until 2020. His career has mimicked the deftness of his deadly sidestep from 15-man rugby to the Sevens game and now back to 15-man, all while maintaining his reputation as a formidable ballplayer and speed merchant.
It has been a patient build-up for the man from Makhanda, Eastern Cape. Injuries have tested him, but he has come back stronger. “There’s something that’s always pushing me, especially when I’m injured. I’m always motivated to come back. I always look back at where I started. The first tournament I played was Las Vegas, and I got injured in the third game. I was out again. You sometimes come back and realise that this is your dream. Then you get injured and you think, ‘Will I get another opportunity?’ I always cast my mind back: ‘How did you do it at that time, and how did you come back stronger?’”
Going out with a bang
Specman is hoping the Cape Town showpiece is a grand farewell. “It’s for me to go out there and show the guys I am here, not half-half. We’ve had guys who were not sure if they’re going away, but my focus is where I am right now because I still have a job to do,” Specman says.
Dubai was only the first in a 10-tournament series. There’s a long way to go yet. With the team rebuilding, fans should prepare themselves for a few more disappointments in the coming months. But failure is foreign to the Blitzboks after back-to-back World Series victories and a bronze medal in San Francisco. The weight of expectation will be palpable in Cape Town.
“We must just be consistent in every aspect and make sure we tick all the boxes. Everyone is ready and everyone worked hard … If we can go out and focus on the process and keep building game by game, we’ll do well,” Specman says.
Blitzboks captain Philip Snyman was brutally honest in his assessment of the team’s underwhelming performance in Dubai. “We didn’t do the small things well. We were poor in those areas in the first four matches. Against Scotland and Fiji, things went more according to plan, but overall, we are disappointed. It was a reality check, too. You cannot just rock up and expect things must happen for you. We lacked that focus, especially early on. We messed up in Dubai, so it is our job to fix it in Cape Town.”
Team in transition
Those were harsh words for players to hear, particularly those relatively new to competitive rugby at international level. Most of the players in the starting line-up for the Blitzboks in Dubai played in the academy team in the same tournament last year. It’s testament to how the Sevens development system has churned out quality players at regular intervals, and the rate at which in-form senior players are leaving its ranks.
But there is no panic in the camp just yet. Coach Neil Powell has been building depth in his squad for some time, and the well-oiled academy production line is beginning to bear fruit. Powell used 28 players last season, knowing the heart of his world-dominating team could be ripped out this season. Impi Visser is the sole “outsider” to make the team in Dubai; the rest, such as Muller du Plessis, have come through the academy.
In time, new players will gel with the experience of Kyle Brown, Justin Geduld, Werner Kok, and Branco du Preez to keep the Sevens squad on a stable footing going into 2019 and beyond, while injured stalwart Cecil Afrika heals on the sidelines. An even rosier picture emerges when we consider that veteran Chris Dry, with 64 tournament caps, is also on the comeback trail.
Specman is his usual upbeat self about his immediate future and life outside of Sevens rugby. “I think the flame [for Sevens] will always be there because this just made a pathway for me coming from 15s to 7s. I feel I’ve grown so much, just being here in the Sevens. And my skills have improved,” he says.
“It’s all the small things, where you can have an impact on 15-man [rugby], where you don’t have that much space, but here you can create some space for yourself. I will just take this to 15-man next season. I just want to enjoy myself. I want to make sure I’m better than last year. Two seasons ago, I was in my best form. I was nominated for player of the year. Last year, injuries killed me. This year, I just want to make sure I finish on a high.”