Johannesburg - Springbok Sevens coach Neil Powell believes the young Blitzboks’ team performance in finishing third at the Hong Kong Sevens has “raised the bar” for his side ahead of this weekend’s defence of their Commonwealth Games gold medal.
The Blitzboks sent a second-string side – made up of young players from their Academy under the guidance of Marius “Shoes” Schoeman - to Hong Kong and surprised all and sundry as they finished third, beating England, Scotland and New Zealand on the weekend and pushing eventual champions Fiji close with a 26-24 loss in the semi-finals, according to supersport.com website.
Powell believes the youngsters have put their hands up, underlining the importance of a good performance this weekend when the Commonwealth Sevens gets underway.
“It was almost more nerve-wracking watching them on tv than sitting next to the side as a coach. But sheez, what a phenomenal job by those youngsters. I think credit must go to Shoes and his management team and the way they led that team through the biggest tournament on the circuit. They won’t get a bigger stage than Hong Kong and I think that they have done a phenomenal job.
“The most positive thing for me from that tournament is the fact that they had six consistent games and there was not one game that they were off the pace. It was a really good performance by a team that almost beat a full-strength Fiji side. They beat a full-strength Scotland side and they beat a New Zealand side that beat a full strength American side.
“There are a lot of positives and a lot of game time for the youngsters and a lot of guys in that team have put their hands up and showed they want to be there in future.”
Young Selvyn Davids was named in the tournament dream team and also player of the tournament, underlining the talent available and Powell will now have a few tough choices when the side gets to the next World Series tournament in Singapore. He believes some of the senior guys may need to show why they are first-choice players this weekend.
“To be honest it has almost raised the bar a little bit this weekend. It is great, it is good if there is healthy competition inside the system and that is what we need. We need guys to push for places to get the best out of everybody.
“I think when you have a lot of senior guys in the squad they sometimes tend to get into a comfort zone. I think the fact that some of the guys are starting to push from the academy side to get spots in the senior team will make this system stronger.”
With all the players arriving in the Gold Coast, Powell believes the team has done the right thing by not sending their strongest side to Hong Kong, like Fiji did.
“At last we have everybody in the Gold Coast. We had a session this morning and there was great energy. Maybe it was a good decision to not play this core group of players in Hong Kong. It is always tough in that second week with another tournament. You have to get the balance right between the work on the field but to also keep the guys fresh in the second week. For us, not playing that first weekend the guys can go full-steam into the weekend and hopefully the guys can have a good one for us. It is never a guarantee that we will be successful but hopefully it will give us energy on the field. “
The team are also looking to draw inspiration from fellow Team South Africa members who have been successful thus far.
“It is great to be in a multi-sport event like this and there are a lot of stars in that Team South Africa. Chad (le Clos) has already won two gold medals, Tatjana Schoenmaker won a gold and Henry Schoeman won a gold. We are drawing our inspiration from that, and obviously they are individual sports but as a team hopefully we can add to that medal table as well. It is going to be a big challenge but hopefully it is one that we are up for. “
The Commonwealth Games Sevens kicks off on Saturday.