Zain Davids cannot wait to play in front of his family and friends at the Cape Town Sevens this weekend, but it has been a long and sometimes lonely road back to the Blitzboks team for him.
The hard-running 22-year-old from Grassy Park has become one of the key figures over the last two years as the Springbok Sevens team have had to deal with the injury-enforced absences and retirements of big names such as Kyle Brown, Kwagga Smith, Seabelo Senatla and Rosko Specman.
But in April, disaster struck as Davids went down in a training session in Hong Kong, and had to go undergo shoulder surgery.
It meant that he missed the rest of the season, and the South Africans missed his explosiveness and physicality.
They managed to pull off a remarkable win in Singapore and a third-place finish in the final event in Paris secured automatic qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
But upon his return for the Dubai Sevens last weekend, Davids’ impact was visible, none more so than in the semi-final against Samoa, where he bounced off a defender and then sprinted away from two more to score a crucial try to bring the Blitzboks back into the game after they trailed 7-0 in the first half.
It was the catalyst for an emphatic 38-7 victory in the end.
“It’s always good to be back from injury with a team like this, because the spirit is high and you just want to be there.
“They are supportive of you, and you just want to play and give it your all,” Davids – who will play in his 20th World Series tournament and could earn his 100th Blitzbok cap at the Cape Town Sevens – told Independent Media.
“I was out for about four months, and it is physically and mentally tough. You are alone and it is off-season for the other players, so you are alone in the gym, doing rehab. So, you have to do what it takes to get to the top, and play hard.”
Having missed out on the 2016 Rio Olympics, Davids will be keen to make the cut for Tokyo next year.
But the same teamwork that won them the Dubai title is what Davids – a former SA Schools and SA Under-20 loose forward – believes will get him into the Olympic mix.
That starts with the opportunity to play in front of his home fans at the Cape Town Stadium this weekend, where the Blitzboks will face Japan (Friday, 8.03pm), Fiji (Saturday, 1.51pm) and USA (Saturday, 8.03pm) in Pool A.
“I think we just stuck to the structure, and the system is always first with us.
“We believe in the system and we believe in each other, nothing can go wrong – because we are not individuals. We are playing as a team,” he said about the Dubai triumph.
“That (the Olympics) is also one of the goals, but first we have to go through the season as a team, and if we do well, we can work on the Olympics.
“We don’t need more confidence (for the Cape Town Sevens). We are playing at home; we’ve got the crowd and everything behind us.
“Not only that, things are positive in the team, and we can just take it from there.”