Arendse, one of four former Blitzboks in the Springbok RWC squad along with Cheslin Kolbe, Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie (Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick is a former Blitzbok captain), explained his love for the shorter format to www.svns.com, with the HSBC SVNS Cape Town taking place this weekend.
Arendse is likely to be going toe-to-toe with the English Premiership’s top scorer, Alex Lewington, this weekend as the Vodacom Bulls host Saracens in the Champions Cup.
But the former Blitzbok star, who played in two series campaigns and the Olympics Games in Tokyo in 2020 before transitioning to 15s, will be keeping an eye on events at DHL Stadium this weekend, as an avowed fan of the shortened-format.
Here he talks about how his time as a Blitzbok helped him on his ascent to Men's Rugby World Cup 2023 glory.
“Playing sevens has been a huge stepping stone in my career. With only seven guys on the field, there’s so much space out there and what drives you is not being the weakest link and letting your team-mates down.
“In attack you have to work incredibly hard to put yourself in the best position to hit green grass in front of you. As I’m not one of the bigger players, I would try to hit grass and not contact as much as possible.
“Another big difference is the gaps between players. When you attack, that is more like eight to 10 metres between players, so you need a strong pass off both hands. In fact, we would practise it with our old Blitzboks coach day after day on refining our passing. There’s no doubt that has helped my career with the Bulls and South Africa.”
“A lot of people have talked about my tackle on Rieko Ioane in the World Cup and asked if it was instinct, or something I have learnt. I’d say the latter.
“When I saw the ball cupped in his right hand, I knew if I was to commit to the tackle I had to somehow wrap the ball as well as the man. I know the All Blacks are a brilliant offloading team and Rieko is very fast and a great player, so I had no margin for error. I also learnt to tackle low and ‘chop’.
“As I’ve said, I’m not the biggest athlete, so I have to go for the legs because if I go high, the bigger players can shrug me off. [Former Blitzboks] Coach Neil [Powell] said if that works for me, to stick with it. I relish one-on-one defensive situations because of my sevens training.”
“Playing on the circuit definitely helped evolve my game awareness and enabled me to pick up tips from legends of the game. I was fortunate enough to play with sevens legend Seabelo Senatla and roomed with him in 2021 in Dubai.
“Seabelo is a great guy and I constantly pumped him for information on his wing play. As smaller players, his main advice was to use our natural ability as evasive, skilful players to our advantage, to use our pace and look for space, not contact.”
“I found the transition from sevens to 15s pretty seamless. The pathway is well-trodden and it’s built into you to work unbelievably hard for your team-mates.
“It’s far more congested on the pitch in 15s, but my mindset is the same; not to be lazy. I’m not the finished product in the 15-a-side game, there are still things I’m learning on the training field, but I know that sevens training has made me a better player.
“I’ve had to add a bit of weight for 15s. I was around 72kg for sevens and I’m now around 80kg, which allows me to soak up the heavier contact and complete more front-on tackles.”
Managing yourself off-the-field
“Being on the sevens series circuit taught me a lot, in terms of looking after myself and keeping myself organised.
“When I came into the system, I was young and wasn’t a big fan of looking after my body, but Justin Geduld said after a few tournaments, ‘Listen, man, you will have to take your recovery seriously. Take your ice-baths, get your nutrition right'.
“I said, ‘Okay, okay, I know my body better than anyone’, but if you play three games on a Saturday and a Sunday and repeat that across the season you kind of learn the hard way. It’s very tough on the body and fatigue becomes a big factor.
“I have become a lot more responsible. I take my massages, do my warm-ups and warm-downs and acknowledge that my body is my bread and butter as a professional. None of us knows how long our careers will last, so looking after it is the least we can do.”
Being a Blitzbok fan
“I am a huge sevens fan and I am so happy the boys won out in Dubai. Hopefully they can turn it on in Cape Town this weekend. They are a brilliant squad and have the Olympics to [aim for] in Paris. I have some amazing memories in the French capital, so I’m hoping they can [qualify and] pick up a gold medal there.”
By Owain Jones