Having steered the Springbok Sevens to a credible second place on the HSBC Sevens World Series, Blitzboks coach Neil Powell admitted that he needs to improve the depth of his squad to make them more competitive next season.
Powell took over the reigns as head coach of the Springbok Sevens when the 2013/14 season started in October last year. His immediate aim was to install a good level of consistency, and to reach the semi-final of each of the nine World Series tournaments.
The Blitzboks 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 the tournaments in Port Elizabeth and Las Vegas.
Prior to the Tokyo Sevens, the Blitzboks pushed New Zealand all the way at the top of the leaderboard and at some point even overtook the eventual World Series winners at the top of the log.
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.
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,” explained Powell.
“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,” reckoned Powell.
The Springbok Sevens coach outlined 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,” said Powell.
He also praised the impact of speedster Seabelo Senatla, after the dangerous wing was crowned top scorer in Las Vegas and London, following his long injury lay-off.
Senatla was closed 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.
Geduld was included in the World Series dream team after a string of powerful performances for the Springbok Sevens at London and in several other events.
The Springbok Sevens return home on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 and land at 11h45 at the Cape Town International Airport. The squad’s next assignment is the Commonwealth Games on 26 and 27 July in Glasgow.