Primed Blitzboks jet to Rio for the Olympics

27 July 2016 - 18:15 By Craig Ray

After doing everything asked of them by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC)‚ the Blitzboks jetted to Rio for the Olympics in buoyant mood on Wednesday. Despite winning the 2014 Commonwealth Games‚ SASCOC placed a stringent qualifying criteria on the SA Sevens team.The body insisted that the Blitzboks had to claim one of the four automatic Rio berths during the 2014/15 World Sevens Series season. Neil Powell’s men duly delivered by finishing second overall that season and earned their ticket. The luxury of knowing a year in advance that they would be in Rio allowed Powell the chance to experiment during the 2015/16 season by using more players than in previous years. The coach trialled fifteens specialists such as Ryan Kankowski‚ Bryan Habana‚ Juan de Jongh and Francois Hougaard.In the end only De Jongh made the final 12-man cut with Hougaard on standby as one of two formal reserves. Powell brought in unknowns such as Dylan Sage at the start of the year.Sage looked ragged and out of his depth on debut in the Cape Town leg of the Series last December.But Powell saw something in him and by the end of the season he was one of the star performers in the team. Similarly Powell helped hone Tim Agaba’s potential.The coach knew that his aging hard man Frankie Horne was unlikely to make it to Rio‚ so he needed to find another forward who could play that role.Agaba settled into the role and he has become an important part of the team because he marries physicality with speed and skill. Powell’s team could not have been better prepared and the coach could not have sifted through players and tactics more thoroughly than he has over the past 12 months. “We are very excited to be part of the Olympic Games and finally travel to Rio‚” Powell said.“I must admit we are also a bit nervous. We know that in a once-off tournament like this‚ everyone is in with a chance to win it. If you are not 110% ready by the time the first match starts then it can become a very tough tournament for you. This is an exciting challenge though and we have a great group of guys here to embrace that.” The South Africans face Spain‚ France and Australia in Pool B of the competition.Rugby will make its long awaited return to the Olympic Games after last being played in Paris in 1924. The Blitzboks face Spain in their opening match on August 9 at 16h30 (SA time) and then play France at 21h30 to conclude their match day one programme. “We need to get out of the blocks well against Spain in that first match and once that is done‚ France will be waiting‚” Powell said. Although the Bok Sevens squad will now arrive in Rio a few days earlier than originally planned‚ Powell is not too worried. “We always like to tick all the boxes before we leave home‚ but with our earlier departure we must adjust a bit of planning and will have to work hard once we are in Rio‚” Powell said. “We are in control of things on the field though and that is where the focus is. Perhaps leaving earlier is a blessing in disguise as the wet weather and muddy fields here made the preparations a bit more difficult."We will now have enough time to acclimatise and to get used to the local conditions.”

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