THE Blitzboks suffered another injury setback on the eve of the third leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series in New Zealand when veteran Ryno Benjamin withdrew from the squad.
The 32-year-old Benjamin, who has played 31 World Series tournaments, suffered a calf strain during training in Wellington on Thursday. Dylan Sage, who was part of the squad that won the second leg in Cape Town last month, will fly to New Zealand to replace Benjamin.
It is another cruel blow for the joint series leaders after they lost captain Kyle Brown and playmaker Cecil Afrika to minor injuries, and World Sevens player of the year Werner Kok to a long-term knee injury.
Benjamin has been ruled out for the following event in Sydney as well.
The Blitzboks are drawn in pool A alongside Scotland, Russia and hosts New Zealand.
New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams is making his debut at this level and should have acclimatised to the shorter version of the game by the time he runs out against the Blitzboks in the final pool match.
Despite Williams’s presence, Blitzbok newcomer Francois Hougaard says his team will not be focused too far ahead.
"Although the excitement about our pool match against New Zealand is something nice for the fans, we take it one game at a time.
"That means we will focus on doing our best against Scotland, and then prepare to take on Russia," Hougaard said.
"It was great to win in front of our home fans in Cape Town, but we all realise that you start every tournament from scratch.
"We don’t focus on individuals, but rather on what we can achieve as a team. Our goals and our team culture are very important to us."
On Saturday, SA will face the tournament hosts in the last match of the day at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium. (Kick-off 9.30am SA time).
Forward Philip Snyman will lead the squad in the absence of Brown, and the former Cheetahs player will make his 33rd World Series appearance.
"It’s my first time being captain and I have got some pretty big shoes to fill," Snyman said.
"We’ve had some really good preparation since Cape Town and the week so far in Wellington has been good. We’re hoping to build on our win in Cape Town and produce some great rugby in Wellington," he said.