Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell says they have a ’fairly good plan in place for Tokyo.’ Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell says they have a ’fairly good plan in place for Tokyo.’ Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Blitzboks reset in quest for Tokyo Olympic gold

By Wynona Louw Time of article published Sep 15, 2020

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CAPE TOWN - If there’s one positive that comes with the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, it’s that the Blitzboks now have a second chance to perfect their preparation for the sporting showpiece.

So says Springbok Sevens coach, Neil Powell.

With the Tokyo Olympics having been pushed back by a year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there were certainly a number of disruptions, but Powell highlighted the silver lining as he chatted about their quest for gold at the 2021 event.

“I think we had a fairly good plan in place for Tokyo, but unfortunately it was postponed for a year, now our management team will have to adapt and face the challenges and work on a really good plan again,” he said.

“The positive about Tokyo being postponed is that we get a second chance at trying to perfect our preparation for the Olympics.”

So far, the first four tournaments of the 2020/21 World Sevens Series - Dubai, Cape Town, Hamilton and Sydney - have been cancelled, something Powell believes will make it easier to zoom in on the biggest sporting event of 2021.

“I think the fact that they cancelled the first four tournaments is probably going to make it easier to focus on the Olympics,” Powell said.

“That would have been our approach if the Olympics took place this year, we would have shifted our focus to Tokyo during the last four tournaments and used those as preparation. I think the fact that we will only have between four and six World Series tournaments before Tokyo will definitely assist in our preparation for the Olympics.”

The Springbok Sevens HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series medal presentation at Markotter Stadium on September 14, 2020 in Stellenbosch. Photo: Ashley Vlotman/SA Rugby

He added that a more congested Series schedule in the re-jigged Sevens calendar would have made it more difficult to ensure his players’ physical and mental sharpness building up to the event.

“I think if we still played Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London in September and October it would have been difficult to manage the players and make sure they get to the Olympics in a good mental and physical state.”

Getting in some game time, however, is key now given that there will be fewer tournaments played before the Japan spectacle, Powell explained.

“Now that we’ll probably only have four to six tournaments, it’s key for us to get enough game time, even if it’s through organising some local tournaments towards the end of this year and then hopefully we’ll get some international competition in February next year before we hopefully start the World Series in April.

“I think in terms of quality of competition I’ll be happy if we can at least play four to six tournaments in preparation for Tokyo.”

The Blitzboks chief added that their result at the 2016 Olympics will be a driving force to reach that top podium finish next year.

“If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, Rio will definitely serve as motivation for us to get into that final and play for the gold medal,” he said of the last Olympic event, where the South Africans claimed the bronze medal.

“That was always the goal going into Rio - to get that opportunity, unfortunately we lost to great Great Britain in the semi-finals, but a lot of lessons were learnt through our Rio experience.”

Meanwhile, the physical handover of the team’s 2019/20 World Rugby Sevens Series silver medals took place at the Markotter Stadium in Stellenbosch yesterday after the Series was suspended with six of the 10 tournaments completed. New Zealand claimed the gold medal.

@WynonaLouw

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