Blitzboks to back specialists

Blitzboks coach Neil Powell says they will predominantly make use of sevens specialists during the upcoming 2016-17 season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Around this time last year, Powell revealed an extended squad in an Olympic season, which included a host of 15s stars such as Bryan Habana, Damian de Allende, Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh.

In the end, a number of 15s players either fell by the wayside or failed to feature as initially planned, with De Jongh proving to be the only recognised 15s ‘specialist’ who earned inclusion in the original 12-man Olympic squad. Although Hougaard made the trip to Brazil, he did so as a travelling reserve.

Regularly during the course of last season, the 15s players spoke of the extreme challenges of transitioning to the sevens game, with Habana just one player who effectively acknowledged he wasn’t quite up to speed.

In hindsight, few would argue that the plan to integrate a number of highly regarded players from the 15-man game proved to be more challenging than initially expected, with the Blitzboks ultimately going on to finish second in the World Rugby Sevens Series, while claiming bronze at the Olympics.

After a period of introspection following last season, the Blitzboks are now in Namibia where they will take part in a warm-up tournament ahead of a new campaign, which will kick off with the Dubai competition on 2-3 December.

Interestingly, Powell revealed that they would primarily back their sevens specialists during the course of the season, with the plan to integrate 15s regulars seeming to have been shelved at least for now.

‘This season we've decided to predominantly focus on using our sevens specialists. We could appreciate that it was difficult for the unions last year when we called up players, with their franchises then not able to conduct work with them at certain times, whether it be on conditioning or certain skills.

‘From next season, and getting closer to the Olympics in 2020, we may look to get 15s players involved again, but for now we want to prioritise the relationships we have with the unions and allow them to have full access to these players.’

Photo: Don MacKinnon/AFP Photo

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