Back to basics for Blitzbok coach Powell
Blitzbok coach Neil Powell believes that the teething problems his rebuilding squad have experienced is making both the players and himself better because they’ve had to go back to basics.
The Blitzboks missed out on the semi-finals in the opening tournament of the 2018/19 HSBC World Sevens Series in Dubai last December and could only place third in Cape Town a week later.
Having won back-to-back titles over the past two seasons while showing remarkable consistency that has yielded seven tournament wins‚ six runners-up places‚ three thirds and two fourth places‚ ending fifth in Dubai was a surprise.
The team has lost a swathe of key players to fifteens and injury‚ which has accelerated the introduction of a slew of academy players to the Blitzboks squad.
They were clearly overwhelmed in Dubai but showed massive improvement a week later in Cape Town.
After the holidays and a lot of hard work at their base in Stellenbosch‚ Powell has been able to do some old school coaching again.
“Rebuilding this team after losing so many players is a good challenge and it also takes me‚ as a coach‚ out of my comfort zone‚” Powell said.
“For the first time in about three years‚ I’ve had to go back and coach some basic detail that for so long‚ we as a group‚ took for granted. Everyone was so familiar with their roles and responsibilities.
“That detail‚ such as running lines‚ or defensive alignment was usually left to the players because they all knew the system and were so experienced. Now‚ I’ve had to go back to some basics.
“This is the first time in a long time that I have had to coach detail again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing at all because it’s a challenge for me to adapt to the new players that bring different attributes. I have to adapt to bring out the best in these players.”
One area the Blitzboks have struggled this season is in terms of their physicality‚ having lost several heavy hitters between seasons.
Powell acknowledged that his team has suffered physically at times in the opening stages of the current campaign‚ but believes that it all ties in with experience and understanding of expectations.
“Sevens is trending towards bigger players and we have seen a guy like Danny Barrett from the USA show the benefits of power‚” Powell said.
“But we have played against him before and when we have made our hits on him‚ we have managed to contain the contact zone.
“We have lost some physicality losing Dylan Sage‚ Tim Agaba‚ Ruhan Nel and even Kwagga Smith‚ who might not be massive‚ but who is very physical for his size‚ since last year.
“The guys coming in to replace them have the potential to be that physical but they have been surprised by what it entails.
“Impi Visser is a big‚ strong guy but he now realises he can’t go into contact at 80% some of the time. It has to be 100% all of the time. It’s the same as young JC Pretorius‚ who is one of our good youngsters coming through.”
The Blitzboks face France‚ Scotland and Kenya in Pool C at this weekend’s Hamilton Sevens.