In the new issue of SA Rugby magazine, Blitzboks coach Neil Powell speaks out about the challenges on and off the field in the 2018-19 season, and the team’s determination to complete a successful rebuilding phase.
The Springbok Sevens side was uncharacteristically inconsistent throughout the past campaign. Admittedly, extenuating circumstances like a player exodus and a spate of injuries at regular intervals contributed to their stagnation.
And Powell admits that this past season was the toughest he has endured as a coach.
‘From a personal perspective, it was probably the most challenging season I’ve had as a sevens coach,’ he says. ‘I’ve experienced many ups and downs before, but our performances at the first few events of a new campaign have always been right up there as some of the best. This past season, we got off to a slow start.
‘Consistency is a big part of success and if you need to change your squad before every leg of the series due to injuries and new players you want to test, it’s always going to be a difficult challenge. I think our tournament results are a fair reflection of that.’
Surprisingly, there were also off-field issues that hampered the Blitzboks and Powell had to intervene in a way he has never had to before.
‘There were times when I had to sit down with players individually, be honest with them and tell them they were doing things I did not like or approve of –things that are not part of our system and culture.’
Unlike the previous season, the Blitzboks weren’t in the title race, instead they were embroiled in four-way fight with England, Australia and France to finish in fourth position.
In the end, the South Africans held their nerve to take that spot and secure automatic qualification for the Olympics, a feat the coach believes is testimony to the character of his charges.
According to him, he is ‘happy with the team’s effort’ and how they pushed towards the end to ensure ‘we reached our objective’.
With the new season and the Olympic Games looming large over the next 12 months, rumours abound of a new wave of players switching to the sevens set-up.
Powell discusses the alleged new influx and how he plans to reward those who have been loyal to the Blitzboks’ cause first. He also touches on the successful development of the young players who’ve worked their way through the academy to the set-up at the Blitzboks, and how the squad depth is at an all-time high.
Read the full article in the August issue of the magazine, which is on sale now.
Photo: Raghavan Venugopal/Photosport