Blitzboks' Dubai delight sweet after tough week: 'Coaches had to train with the players'

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The Blitzboks overcame various challenges. (Photo by Christopher Pike/Getty Images)
The Blitzboks overcame various challenges. (Photo by Christopher Pike/Getty Images)
  • The Blitzboks' second triumph in Dubai on Saturday was made even sweeter by all the Covid-19 related challenges they had to face.
  • The UAE's travel ban meant that the South Africans couldn't replace two injured players, forcing coach Neil Powell and his lieutenants to actively participate in training sessions this past week.
  • Powell praised his charges for showcasing that their system is one that can carry them through adversity too, not merely one that brings success on the front foot.

While the Blitzboks' notable triumph in this weekend's Dubai Sevens - a tournament of two editions that was played over the past fortnight - seemed like a normal, hard-fought affair, it was anything but the case.

Neil Powell's typically well-drilled and incisive charges prevailed 10-7 in a tight final against an accomplished Australian outfit after overcoming a week where the world's controversial reaction to South Africa's detection of the Omicron variant impacted them pronouncedly.

With the UAE being one of the myriad countries to implement travel restrictions on southern Africa, the Blitzboks had to make due with a threadbare squad of just 11 fit players following injuries to Ryan Oosthuizen and Muller du Plessis, who couldn't be replaced by Angelo Davids and Dewald Human.

READ | JC Pretorius the hero as Blitzboks clinch memorable back-to-back Dubai titles

"It was a week full of challenges," Powell admitted afterwards.

"The plan was to bring those two over as replacements, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that before the borders were closed for international flights."

As a result, Powell and other members of his support staff such as assistant Renfred Dazel had to actually conduct training sessions while actively participating in them too.

"We as management had to jump in to make sure we had two squads of seven players to train with," he said.

On top of that severe inconvenience, the South Africans also had to contend with their own mental challenges, with Powell pointing out that his charges could've easily fallen into the trap of being deflated after the high of the previous week.

"Credit to the boys," he said.

"After a win and successful week, it's always difficult to (get in the right frame of mind). I'm not saying it's about being humble again, just 'resetting' back to zero. 

"They really did well. You can't ask anything more from the players."

After swatting away all resistance last week, the Blitzboks found the going tougher this time round, but Powell believed the fact the team could still come out on top is a testament to the versatility of their system.

"There's enormous pride in our system," he said.

"We're a team that doesn't just win tournaments by being clinical and run away with things. We can also grind it out and show some fighting spirit. We showed work ethic.

"It's a system that illustrates that if you look after the system, it will also look after you. Everybody wants to make it successful behind the scenes." 

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