Blitzboks build character

Coach Neil Powell and captain Kyle Brown have hailed the character displayed by the triumphant Blitzboks to bounce back from a shock defeat on day one of the Cape Town Sevens, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

On Sunday, the Blitzboks celebrated a memorable victory in the Cup final against Argentina, having also comfortably beaten France and Australia during their two earlier play-off games.

The Blitzboks’ clinical showing on day two was a far cry from the unconvincing display they produced on Saturday, which saw the South African side battle past Zimbabwe before suffering a surprise loss to Kenya.

It left them facing a must-win match against England in order to remain in the hunt for the Cup title, but in the end the Blitzboks delivered when it mattered as they clinched a face-saving 10-0 win.

Powell, who had expressed his exasperation in no uncertain terms after day one, was understandably far more satisfied when he spoke to the media at the end of the day’s play on Sunday.

‘It felt like we were a bit rusty [on day one] because we couldn’t even do the basic skills of catching and passing, and after the Kenya game, the guys realised they can’t just expect to pitch up and expect things to happen,’ he conceded. ‘They needed to make things happen and that’s exactly what they did against England, and then they played very good rugby over the last three games.

‘Perhaps some of the pressure and enormity of the support we received [in Cape Town] overwhelmed the players a bit, but then we settled down nicely. Mistakes are acceptable as long as we learn from it, and we want to see them coming back strong and better, which is exactly what happened [on Sunday],' he added.

Brown agreed that the players had perhaps got caught up in the occasion, but credited their resolve in responding with a much-improved performance.

‘After day one, I don’t want to say we hit rock bottom, but we bottomed out nicely. It was difficult to be in that sort of place and then have all those emotions after playing England. Just to see the character of the guys come through was fantastic. I think we let go of the pressure after that game against England, and we came out and just played some enjoyable rugby [on Sunday], and just appreciated the energy from the crowd.’

Juan de Jongh was one of the star players for the Blitzboks on Sunday, demonstrating the value the 15s newcomers are adding to the sevens set-up.

‘Credit to the unions who have worked with us to release players like Juan,’ Powell commented. ‘I think it’s been great to see the impact the new players have made and what they’ve brought to the sevens set-up. We’re still trying and testing out players, but I’ve been pleased by the contributions they’ve made.’

De Jongh said he was loving his time with the Blitzboks, and credited the inspirational role played by senior players in turning the team’s fortunes around.

‘After that loss to Kenya, we realised what was on the line when we came up against England. So the senior guys just asked everyone “How much do you want it?”. All the players got themselves into the right mindset to ensure we were switched on, and we were all fully focused and buying into the plan on day two. It was very special to clinch the Cup in front of all our home fans.’

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis