CAPE TOWN - Unreal. That's how Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell describes the feeling of winning back-to-back World Sevens Series titles. Powell's record-breaking team arrived at the Cape Town International Airport on Tuesday afternoon after winning the Paris tournament in dramatic fashion on Sunday.
The Blitzboks overcame a tough weekend in France to emerge as champions of the international Sevens circuit again, after claiming the title last year for the first time since the 2008/09 season.
"It's still feels unreal," Powell said. "We had a few challenges to overcome especially in the last week. Going into the last tournament seven points behind Fiji...to be honest I didn't think it would really be possible to win the World Series."
"Credit to the guys for keeping their focus after that Spain quarter-final. We didn't perform well. But the fact that they knew Fiji was out of the competition and that we could win it...I think their composure and focus was amazing in the last two games. Everything fell in place, and I'm just grateful."
The Blitzboks (182 points) edged Olympic gold medallists Fiji (180) on the final standings, while the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold-medal winners New Zealand (150) ended third. Earlier this year, Powell highlighted retaining their Commonwealth Games and series titles as two of their objectives for 2018, while developing young talent was also listed as a priority.
And while they had to be satisfied with bronze on Australia's Gold Coast, Powell said the decision to take his "regular" Blitzboks team to the Commonwealth Games and send a new outfit composed of academy players to the Hong Kong leg worked out in the end. The fact that he introduced a number of new faces to the international Sevens arena this season was also a pleasing aspect for the coach.
"I think we could have approached the Commonwealth Games differently, maybe we could have gone later and not that early, but I think the plan was always a good plan," he said. "I knew it was going to be a long season, so I think the plan worked out nicely. The fact that the guys picked up some valuable points in Hong Kong helped us to be successful."
"I think it was two special seasons - last year because we dominated the series and won it with a game to go, and this year because we lost so many players (to injury) and exposed new players to the World Series. This was probably a more persistent effort, last year we only used 20 players or so."
"It's amazing that we used 28 players, a lot of youngsters got their opportunities. And that was the goal, not just to win the series, but also to develop the new generation of Sevens players. It was a massive system effort."
The busy international Sevens calendar will continue next month in the USA when San Francisco hosts the Rugby World Cup Sevens. But it's an occasion Powell said he hasn't given much thought to just yet.
"I haven't thought about the World Cup too much yet. We'll sit down with the medical staff and see who can be available for us for the World Cup. But the squad will probably consist of the guys that made up the squad, one or two Fifteens guys that played Sevens in the past, academy players and guys returning from injury."