Great year for Powell

2014-11-24 00:00

JUST a year has gone by since Neil Powell took the reins of the Springbok Sevens side and he is already a ­candidate for the South African Sports Awards Coach of the Year.

He is up against Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba as well as renowned swimming coach Graham Hill for the coveted award. Powell coached the Blitsbokke to a historic Commonwealth gold medal earlier this year — their first ever.

Speaking to The Witness last week, Powell admitted he was surprised to be up for the award but was more taken aback when he became Blitsbokke coach last year.

“To be honest, I was thrown into the deep end last year with just two weeks to go before the opener of the season at the Gold Coast Sevens,” he said.

“I never thought I would be Blitsbokke coach until after the 2016 Olympics in Rio because Paul Treu [Powell’s predecessor] had always wanted to take the side to Rio.”

But Treu resigned last year and has since moved on to coach the Kenyan sevens outfit while Powell took over a team he had played in for many years.

“It was a real eye-opener to see how much work goes on behind the scenes as coach. When you were a player, your day was done after practice but as a coach, the work begins once practice is over,” he said, laughing.

Powell seemed to fit the role ­perfectly and along with a strong management team started the 2014 HSBC Sevens series with a bang.

“The first five or six tours we played really well but we fell off towards the end of the series. We just need to work on our consistency — we want to play a good brand of rugby.”

The coach put the good start of his tenure down to the platform Treu had laid during his nine-year career as Blitsbokke coach. Powell’s team ended up second on the series standing ­behind New Zealand this year.

“I will always be forever grateful to Paul for leaving a quality group of ­players and structures to work with.”

Having coached the academy side for two years, Powell has come to grips with the rigours of coaching but ­admits there is a lot to do.

“We have a great group of very talented players. The challenge is getting the most out of each individual. Different players need to be managed differently,” Powell said.

“I am still learning but it helps to have had a relationship with the ­players I once played with — guys like Frankie Horn. The senior guys and I often challenge each other, not in a personal way, for what is right for the team.”

In light of his nomination for the award, Powell remained humble and seems focused on the bigger picture.

“I am honoured; I didn’t think I would be up for any awards. It is ­testament to the setup we have here. We have quality players and hard working management behind the scenes. I thank everyone for their contribution to the team,” Powell said.

The SA Sports Awards will be held at a gala dinner at the Sandton ­convention centre on Sunday, ­November 30.

Powell on matching New Zealand

“If you look at our record this year against them, we have both won three tournaments, which leaves us on

level-pegging. I don’t think we need to do things differently, we just have to be 100% accurate in every game.”

Powell on the

unpredictability

of Sevens

“It is definately an unpredictable game. A single bounce of the ball or ref’s call can make the whole difference. What we can do is control the game and keep the ball in our hands. In Sevens, defence is the hardest thing, it makes you really tired. We just need to put points on the board when we can.”

Powell’s goal for the team

“We want to qualify for the Olympics this year. To do that, Sascoc has set criteria for us to meet. We need to finish in the top four of the HSBC series in order to go to Rio.”

New faces in the setup?

Powell has already built up a quality group of players but admitted that he would be looking at a few select players from the 15-man game. “I would love to see what guys like Francois Hougaard and Jesse Kriel can offer,” Powell said.

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