Blitzboks coach Powell puts his chips down on youth in Vegas

The Blitzboks coach Neil Powell takes his player through their paces.
The Blitzboks coach Neil Powell takes his player through their paces.
Image: Martin Seras Lima

Blitzbok coach Neil Powell has backed youth and enthusiasm to turn his team’s fortunes around in the fifth leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series in Las Vegas this weekend.

Although Powell and his men will never give up on chasing a third straight title‚ the reality is that if they don’t win in Nevada this weekend‚ their title defence is all but over.

The Blitzboks are 19 points behind the USA and New Zealand on the standings.

It’s a cavernous gap to close‚ which is why the pragmatic approach is to give youngsters experience and lock down a top four place on the standings. That brings automatic Olympic qualification.

With a longer-term view in mind‚ the fact that there are several Vegas first-timers in the USA this weekend indicates that Powell has decided to accelerate his rebuilding after four underwhelming performances so far this year.

Debutant forward Sako Makata will be backed up by JC Pretorius (one tournament)‚ Impi Visser (four tournaments) and Ryan Oosthuizen (12 tournaments)‚ with a heavy burden on Blitzbok captain Philip Snyman (58 tournaments) to export his vast experience on the world stage.

In the backline‚ Powell will give the likes of Selvyn Davids (nine tournaments) and Mfundo Ndhlovu (two tournaments) more than enough time on the field to justify his trust in their game-breaking ability.

The coach believes the hunger and energy from the young guns will stand the team in good stead this weekend at the Sam Boyd Stadium‚ where they will face Japan‚ Chile and England in Pool C of the tournament.

“They are hungry for success‚ no doubt; and they have the potential and ability‚ no doubt‚” said Powell.

“They have a great opportunity to combine that this weekend. We had a good week of preparation and coming in a day earlier than usual giving us just that little bit more time to focus on the small things that held us back in the previous tournaments.

“We are all on the same page for this one and I am excited for it to start. I challenged the new guys to show the desire to become world stars by investing in themselves.

“They put in extra sessions to improve their ability on things such as aerial skills‚ contact skills‚ passing and kicking. They accepted that challenge‚ just as they will accept the challenge laid down by some very good teams here this weekend.”

The weekend is not only about the young guns‚ though‚ with stalwarts Werner Kok‚ Justin Geduld‚ Branco du Preez and Siviwe Soyizwapi expected to deliver the type of performances that won them tournaments and the hearts and minds of many Blitzbok fans.

Powell also challenged the senior players: “We had certain characteristics and traits as a World Series-winning team and they were part of that.

“We had a clinical approach on defence and rucks and forced our identity on other teams. That dominance must be visible again and if we can do that‚ the coaching staff will be quite happy at the end of the weekend.”