Blitzboks to enter Olympic Village late in bid for gold in Tokyo, coach Neil Powell
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CAPE TOWN - Getting into the Olympic Village as late as possible could be the key to the Blitzboks bringing home a gold medal from Tokyo.
That was the word from Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell to Independent Media yesterday as he prepared his team for another warm-up tournament in Stellenbosch this weekend.
The Blitzboks were split into two squads for matches against Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport Sevens side over two days, with the World Sevens Series having been cancelled due to Covid-19.
It has made life more difficult for Powell and his coaching staff in preparing for the Olympics, while he is also still awaiting the return of captain Stedman Gans from the ankle injury he sustained on Bulls duty.
Gans will hope to be back on the field for further warm-up matches in Johannesburg before the final Olympic squad is announced in early July.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Blitzboks had to be satisfied with a bronze medal after losing 7-5 to Great Britain in the semi-finals, and it's something that Powell wants to turn into gold in Japan. The South Africans will be hosting a pre-tournament camp in Kagoshima, the same city where Rassie Erasmus' Springboks prepared ahead of their 2019 Rugby World Cup triumph.
“The first time we will go to the Olympic Village will be three days before we play, and that is something that I am totally pleased about – there are totally too many distractions there in the Village for the young guys,” Powell said.
“It's a combination of things (to win gold). That's why I mentioned the distractions. In Rio, we were in the Village long before the time. We also learnt things during the tournament, and when we ended top of our group, we made a few changes to the starting side, which I felt broke our momentum a little bit. If we had to keep the starting team together, I think we would have had better momentum going into the semi-final. So, such small lessons from Rio that we hope will help us to perform better in Tokyo.”
Powell said that it was unlikely that someone outside the current training group would make the final squad, and that Bok star Cheslin Kolbe's involvement in the Lions series will rule him out of making it to Tokyo.
He felt that some of the players battled to get going in the first warm-up tournament, and will be better this weekend. “JC (Pretorius) is always a stalwart, Ryan (Oosthuizen) played really well. Zain (Davids) had a rather quiet game, but I think in the reviews and stuff, most of the guys that I spoke to said that it felt like a strange tournament, as it didn't feel like they had many chances to really do something,” Powell said.