Baseball welcomes Boks

The Springbok Sevens team will get a taste of what American sport is about when they open the USA Sevens on Saturday.

The Boks kick off against the host nation at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres.

The baseball giants have loaned their ground to US Rugby for the Sevens, giving the tournament a personality of its own – Hong Kong and Wellington may have the sold-out crowds and endless sing-alongs but the US Sevens has rugby on a famous baseball diamond and with the event being heavily promoted here, the Boks can expect a massive, hot-dog-toting, Budweiser-swilling crowd on Saturday.

As willing as the Americans will be, the professional South African team should prove too strong for the amateurs. The SA Sevens team is now fully professional – the players are contracted to play Sevens only and have a permanent base in Stellenbosch, giving them continuity, stability and endless opportunity to train.

The Boks will not be totally without support at Petco Park. This California city is to America what Perth is to Australia in terms of the big expat South African community (one of them is former Natal prop Graham “Basher” Downes).

The Bok squad was swamped by South African well-wishers on Wednesday night at a function to launch the Sevens held at the Sports Hall of Fame which is based in the inspirationally-named (Rocky) Balboa Park. The players were presented with copies of the local expat magazine Juluka, whose cover story is an interview with massive rock band Seether, who are topping charts the length and breadth of the States. While Just Jinger are making waves up the road in Los Angeles, its a drop in the ocean compared to Seether’s success. Incidentally, Seether front man Shaun Morgan Welgemoed played prop in some of Butch James’ teams at Maritzburg College.

After the USA game, the Boks play Mexico and England on Saturday and should top their pool going into Sunday’s finals.
Paul Treu’s team is at full-strength. They have been boosted by the return to fitness of playmaker Mzwandile Stick, whose good health is all the more fortuitous because he replaces the man called up to the Stormers, Juan de Jongh (he is one of only a few non-contracted players and thus could be called up to the Super 14).

After three legs of the IRB series, the Boks are third behind Fiji and runaway leaders New Zealand. Interestingly, Fiji and the All Blacks are drawn in the same pool, along with dangerous Australia, which means one of the top teams will be cancelled out. The USA leg is the halfway mark of the series.

By Mike Greenaway in San Diego