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Blitzboks conundrum for coach Neil Powell after poor showing in Vancouver

The South Africa team huddle before the game against Australia on day one of the HSBC Canada Sevens at BC Place Stadium on 16 April, 2022 in Vancouver, Canada. Picture: Mike Lee/KLC fotos/World Rugby/BackpagePix

The South Africa team huddle before the game against Australia on day one of the HSBC Canada Sevens at BC Place Stadium on 16 April, 2022 in Vancouver, Canada. Picture: Mike Lee/KLC fotos/World Rugby/BackpagePix

Published Apr 18, 2022


Cape Town - While the Springbok Sevens side’s performances against France and New Zealand brought some comfort for Neil Powell, there are also a few tough questions the squad will have to ask themselves before heading into the next World Sevens Series tournament, the coach said following their fifth-place finish in Vancouver.

The Blitzboks won all three of their pool games against Spain, Canada and Australia on day one, before crashing out in the Cup quarter-finals against Samoa at BC Place.

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While their overall finish and their pool-stage outings were better than in Singapore (where they placed sixth and lost three matches in a row), the South Africans still weren’t at their best in North America, and it showed as early as their first two games.

The defending Series champions looked better against Australia in their final pool game, but it was followed by a 28-17 defeat to Samoa in the quarters. After their loss against the Pacific Islanders, the Blitzboks ended on a positive note with victories over France and New Zealand.

ALSO READ: Blitzboks fall short in Canada Sevens after going down to Samoa

“It was a tough two weeks and not something that we are happy about as a team,” said Powell.

“We will have to ask tough questions to ourselves on what happened and what areas we need to improve on. As individuals, we will have a serious conversation on our performances, but also as a team, where we did not function as we should have.

“The way we finished in those last two matches remains a positive, we really turned it around. But that does not detract from those weak moments, and we need to be hard on ourselves to make sure it does not happen in the next two tournaments.”

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“We had hot and cold moments and sadly those cold ones proved crucial and very costly. It is something we need to look at – the players and the coaching staff alike – to see how and why it happened and what can be done to prevent that.”

Powell pointed to the mental readiness of the squad as well: “This is a physical and well as a mental game and at times we did not mentally respond the way we used to.”

The Blitzboks mentor added that the return of Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand to the Series provided a good challenge for his squad in Canada - where they had been undefeated in 12 games prior to this weekend - particularly for the less-experienced players.

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“They do test you in different ways and areas and some of the young guys in the team needed to learn and experience what those were,” he said.

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“You can tell them what to expect, but they might not believe you until they experienced it themselves, especially the physicality in contact areas. We needed to play against them and although we lost two (Fiji and Samoa) and won the one (New Zealand),

we can be successful against them if we implement correctly.”

South Africa now lead the World Series by only six points on 111, with Argentina (105) and Australia (100) closing in, and collected only 23 league points in the last two tournaments. Three tournaments remain in the Series - Toulouse and London at the end of May, and Los Angeles late August.

Powell’s charges will face Samoa, Ireland and Spain in Pool D in France (May 20 to 22). Argentina, who shocked Fiji to claim their first tournament title since 2009, will face England, Canada and Japan in Pool A. Fiji, France, Wales and Kenya will contest Pool B, while Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and USA will battle it out in Pool C.

World Rugby Sevens Series standings:

111: South Africa

105: Argentina

100: Australia

70: USA

69: Ireland

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