13 May 2014
After steering the Springbok Sevens team to a credible second place finish in the HSBC Sevens World Series in his first season in charge, Blitzbokke coach Neil Powell admitted on Monday that he needs to improve the depth of his squad to make them more competitive next season.
When he took over the reigns as head coach at the start of the 2013/14 season in October last year, Powell’s immediate aim was to install a good level of consistency, and to reach the semi-finals of each of the nine World Series tournaments.
The Blitzbokke were on course to achieve their two main goals mid-way through the season, with the team playing in no less than five consecutive Cup Finals and winning tournaments in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas.
A heavy toll
Prior to the Tokyo Sevens, the Blitzbokke had pushed New Zealand all the way at the top of the leaderboard and even moved to the top of the standings. However, the trip to the Far East eventually took a heavy toll on the team, after several regulars, such as Kyle Brown and Cecil Afrika, were ruled out of action because of injury.
Stephan Dippenaar also joined the casualty list in Glasgow, with the result that Powell had to call on rookie Shaun Adendorff and the relatively inexperienced WJ Strydom to plug the gaps. Mark Richards was also thrown into the fray, having last played for the Springbok Sevens at the Gold Coast tournament last October.
Losses in the quarterfinals of the last three tournaments allowed New Zealand to finally pull away from the South Africans to land a fourth consecutive World Series title.
Influential figures missed
Powell, reflecting on the past season and his first in charge, said the team missed especially the influential figures of regular captain Brown and experienced playmaker Afrika.
“Look we definitely missed Kyle and Cecil in Glasgow, while we had Stephan (Dippenaar) injured in Glasgow and unavailable for London. On top of that, we also lost Werner Kok with an ankle injury on Sunday in London,” Powell explained in a statement.
“However, I am making no excuses for our below par performances in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Scotland. In London, we always knew it was going to be tough to play a full strength New Zealand team [in the quarterfinals] and they deserved their win.
“However, I think the guys did extremely well and displayed huge courage to come from behind to beat Samoa and also to overcome Kenya in the Plate Final.”
The Springbok Sevens coach said his next aim is to increase the depth of his squad: “The injuries to our regulars was unfortunate and part of the game. On the plus side, it did gave us chance to give players such as Shaun Adendorff, WJ Strydom and Mark Richards more playing time. I am sure they benefitted a lot from playing in Glasgow and London.
“However, we will have to increase the strength and depth of our squad because next season will be an important one as we look to qualify for 2016 Olympics,” Powell said.
He also praised the impact of speedster Seabelo Senatla, after the dangerous wing was crowned top scorer in Las Vegas and London, following a long injury lay-off. Senatla was close to his best at Twickenham and was the top points’ and try scorer after dotting 13 tries.
“Seabelo made a huge impact after his return to action and he was really hungry to play after missing the first part of the season because of a back injury. Justin Geduld also deserves credit for his consistency throughout the season,” Powell remarked.
Dream Team selection
Geduld was included in the World Series Dream Team after a string of impressive performances for the Springbok Sevens at London and in several other events.
While the HSBC Sevens World Series has come to a conclusion, the Blitzbokke still have a huge assignment ahead of them at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on 26 and 27 July.