Johannesburg - After almost a decade under successful Sevens coach Paul Treu, new Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell will face his first tough test in charge of the team as they kick off the Gold Coast tournament in the early hours of Saturday morning.
According to the supersport.com website, Powell hasn’t had it easy since taking over, but with so much change in the HSBC Sevens Series this season – no less than nine teams have new coaches – he won’t be alone in feeling the heat as the series kicks off in the Australian coastal resort town.
Powell has done all the right things – he has continuity in terms of players and game plan, and the team are still confident from their win in the World Games a few months back. Before that, the core part of the group were in fabulous form at the Rugby World Cup in Moscow, but bowed out in unspectacular fashion in the quarter-finals after a few soft moments where they let Fiji strike.
Still, in terms of the team’s game plan, the brand of rugby that they were playing was exciting and powerful, and if they can replicate this in Australia, then half the work may well be done. But the biggest concern for the Boks is that they have had so little time together as a squad. Their loss in the Middelburg Sevens final to Wales last month showed there are still chinks in their armour, and while it was a mix and match squad in that tournament, Powell will have been working hard on rectifying those errors.
The team has been delayed by inclement weather and flights this week, getting into Australia as the last side and missing the normal team captain’s photo. It is difficult to say whether completing their preparations in South Africa will hinder them or help them, but there is certainly a question mark about the team’s jet-lag and how it will affect them on the opening day.
Their tricky pool allows for no slip-ups, especially as they have a dangerous French side first up, while Spain have made big improvements in recent times and England – under former Sevens captain Simon Amor – are always a thorn in the Springboks’ side.
Those three will provide a worthy test of the strength of the Bok team – who will rely on playmaker Cecil Afrika and their traditional strengths up front. Out wide, the speed of Sampie Mastriet should be a key factor in attack for them, especially with Seabelo Senatla out of action.
Still, the first tournament of the season is always a difficult one to predict – and with so many changes across the teams, it makes it even tougher to predict who will get it right. Powell has been waiting in the wings with the academy side for a number of years now. The team has a new approach, and this is a fresh start.
It will be interesting to see just how well they do under the new management.