Unathi Mali will make her Springbok Women’s Sevens debut in Dubai in the opening leg of the 2017/2018 HSBC Women’s Sevens Series from 30 November to 1 December in one of three changes to coach Renfred Dazel team’s that secured the Rugby Africa Sevens title in Tunisia in September.
The tournament victory also earned them a place in the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco.
Mali, who featured in the SA Select Women’s Sevens team last season in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and France, made a return to the national sevens camp in November following an impressive performance for the 15-a-side SA Select Women on their England tour in October where they faced the England Academy team and British Army.
The other changes to Dazel’s team were the inclusion of Marithy Pienaar – who has made a full recovery from surgery to her hip – and Phumeza Gadu. Along with Mali, they replace Rights Mkhari, Zinhle Ndawonde and Zenay Jordaan respectively.
“Unathi has worked hard to stake a claim for a place in the team since joining the squad earlier this month, and we are delighted that she will make her debut in an HSBC Sevens Series event after having represented the SA Select Women’s Sevens on a few occasions,” said Dazel.
“She scored a hat-trick in the opening match of the 15s tour to England last month, so she is in good form and ready to make her presence felt.
“It is also fantastic to have Marithy and Phumeza back in the mix. Their skill and experience will be invaluable as we look to build on our progress in the tournament last season in which we advanced to the quarter-final.”
Dazel’s team will face New Zealand, the USA and France in the pool stages of the competition, and he was pleased with their preparation: “We have been putting the building blocks in place since returning from the Rugby Africa Sevens, and we really stepped things up in terms of the intensity of our sessions in the last two weeks.
“With all of the players having featured in international tournaments, and everyone with the exception of Unathi having HSBC World Series experience, we know what to expect in terms of the quality of the teams we will face and the pressure on us in Dubai.
“This is the first tournament in what marks an important 2018 season for us with the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup Sevens lined up and we are determined to begin it on a solid note.”
The team will depart for Dubai on Saturday.
Springbok Women’s Sevens squad to Dubai: Megan Comley, Phumeza Gadu, Veroeshka Grain (captain), Jacqueline Kriel, Unathi Mali, Zintle Mpupha, Marithy Pienaar, Nadine Roos, Mathrin Simmers, Chane Stadler, Christelene Steinhobel, Eloise Webb.
South Africa’s schedule for Thursday, 30 November (SA kick-off times):
09h50 – New Zealand
12h24 – USA
15h21 – France