'We had hot and cold moments' - Positive finish in Vancouver eases some pain for Powell

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Neil Powell (Getty Images)
Neil Powell (Getty Images)

Six tries against France and a victory over New Zealand in their last two matches at the Canada Sevens in Vancouver, as well as an improved finish than in Singapore a week before, pointed to a positive ending for the Blitzboks at the end of their trip to Asia and North America, but the overall performances were below par and can't be sugar-coated.

That was the frank assessment of Blitzboks Sevens coach, Neil Powell, at the completion of the fifth and sixth legs of the World Rugby Sevens Series in Singapore and Vancouver, where the Blitzboks saw an erosion of their overall lead on the standings to Argentina and Australia.

South Africa now lead the World Series by only six points on 111, with Argentina (105) and Australia (100) closing in. The Blitzboks could only harvest 23 league points in the last two tournaments, while Argentina gathered 35 and Australia 34 points over the same period.

Three tournaments remain, in Toulouse and London at the end of May and in Los Angeles late in August.

Powell was not looking at the standings only in his assessment of the Blitzboks' performances – after winning all three of their pool matches on the first day in Vancouver, the South Africans lost to Samoa in the Cup quarter-final before rebounding with wins against France and New Zealand to finish the tournament in fifth place overall.

"It was a tough two weeks and not something that we are happy about as a team," said Powell.

"We will have to ask tough questions to ourselves on what happened and what areas we need to improve on.

"As individuals, we will have a serious conversation on our performances, but also as a team, where we did not function as we should have.

"The way we finished in those last two matches remains a positive; we really turned it around. But that does not detract from those weak moments, and we need to hard on ourselves to make sure it does not happen in the next two tournaments."

The squad did not show their usual consistency in performances, and Powell said it would need to be addressed: "We had hot and cold moments, and sadly those cold ones proved crucial and very costly. It is something we need to look at – the players and the coaching staff alike – to see how and why it happened and what can be done to prevent that."

Powell pointed to the mental readiness of the squad as well: “This is a physical and well as a mental game and at times we did not mentally respond the way we used to.”

Despite the disappointments, there were some positives for Powell too, which included the return of Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand to the World Series after missing out in the early rounds due to the pandemic.

"They do test you in different ways and areas and some of the young guys in the team needed to learn and experience what those were," he said.

"You can tell them what to expect, but they might not believe you until they experienced it themselves, especially the physicality in contact areas. We needed to play against them and although we lost two (Fiji and Samoa) and won the one (New Zealand) we can be successful against them if we implement correctly."

There were mixed feelings for James Murphy, who scored the winning try against New Zealand, but he was proud of the comeback effort.

"From an individual point of view, this was about grabbing opportunities presented, and I am pleased with the way I reacted," said Murphy, who didn’t feature in Singapore and only joined the squad in Vancouver as an injury replacement.

"It is always great to finish off a try like that where the whole team did their bit."

Murphy feels a better start to their matches will be crucial for the Blitzboks: "We lost to Samoa – and credit to them – by playing against ourselves as well.

"That first half was horrible. We conceded penalties, we gave the ball away and allowed them too much of a lead. We need to cut out those errors because when we did against France and New Zealand, we could stay in the game."

South Africa will face Samoa, Ireland and Spain in Pool D in Toulouse, to be played on 20-22 May.

Argentina, who won in Vancouver, will travel to France as top seeds and will face England, Canada and Japan in Pool A.

Meanwhile, Fiji, France, Wales and Kenya will contest Pool B. Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and USA will be in a very competitive Pool C.

Selected 2022 season stats for the Blitzboks:

Most points:

141: Ronald Brown

138: Selvyn Davids

105: Siviwe Soyizwapi

70: JC Pretorius

Most tries:

24: Selvyn Davids

21: Siviwe Soyizwapi

14: JC Pretorius

13: Ronald Brown

10: Zain Davids

Most tackles made:

68: Zain Davids

55: Christie Grobbelaar

51: JC Pretorius

50: Selvyn Davids

49: Impi Visser

HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings:

111: South Africa

105: Argentina

100: Australia

70: USA

69: Ireland

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