Blitzboks coach Neil Powell. Photo: SA Rugby website

Blitzboks coach Neil Powell. Photo: SA Rugby website

Can Blitzboks give iconic coach the perfect farewell?

A victory at the Sevens World Cup in Cape Town would represent a fitting send-off for legendary Blitzboks coach Neil Powell.

Blitzboks coach Neil Powell. Photo: SA Rugby website

Blitzboks coach Neil Powell. Photo: SA Rugby website

Powell will coach the Blitzboks for the final time this weekend before moving to fifteens with the Sharks in Durban, but for the experienced coach – who won two Commonwealth Games gold medals, three World Rugby Sevens Series trophies as a coach and one as a player, and bronze medals at the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2018 Rugby World Cup Sevens respectively – there is still one tournament he would dearly love to win, the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens.

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“I think it ranks up there with the Olympic Games in terms of prestige,” said Powell on Thursday.

“Much of it has to do with the format, where you cannot afford a defeat. I know it does not always end in fairy tales – sevens rugby has shown it is way too unpredictable for that – but yes, it will be a good ending if we can be singing the national anthem before the final game Sunday in what will be a packed Cape Town Stadium.

“That would be the perfect way to end my time with this team and sevens rugby. Having said that, I can promise you that it is not a topic of discussion in the team at the moment. Before we get to Sunday, we have a job to do on Friday and another one on Saturday.

“If we do not do those properly, the Sunday finish will not be what everyone is hoping for. We cannot look past the very first game – in this case, Friday night when we play the winner of Germany and Chile. That will be the only focus for us,” Powell added.

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For the coach, some inconsistencies in their play in the last couple of World Series events created concerns, but the offset was an almost perfect match against Fiji in the final of the Commonwealth Games.

“Yes, we managed to do very well there as we tweaked our game slightly and other teams could not adapt in time. We have something similar in our approach in Cape Town this weekend,” said Powell.

“Cape Town as a venue has been stunning, we are so well looked after and the crowds are so vocal in their support of the team, that this was our favourite stop in the time that I have coached the team. We have this wonderful opportunity to be playing at home and that will be a massive boost for us.”

Blitzbok captain Siviwe Soyizwapi said the delivery of a Rugby World Cup to South African sporting fans would be massive, but the squad also want to have Powell lifting the Melrose Cup as the winning coach.

“We are certainly going to try and win it for the coach,” said Soyizwapi. “He has been so instrumental in all our careers, not only as a coach, but also as a mentor and father figure. He will be sorely missed once he is gone, but we still have him for a couple of days and must use that time to make sure we give him a proper send-off.”

Playmaker Selvyn Davids was also full of praise when he spoke of Powell: “He changed my life around. I was having issues with my discipline and coach Neil changed that for me. I am a better person and a better player because of him, and no one can ask for more than that from your coach.”

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For Impi Visser, who will make a return from injury and will be making his Rugby World Cup Sevens debut, the Powell factor will lift the squad, as will the impact from the Cape Town crowd.

“For us as players, it does not come bigger than this,” said Visser. “You are part of a once in a lifetime opportunity to play the Rugby World Cup Sevens in our own backyard and in front of your loved ones and supporters. If that does not bring the best out of you, nothing will.”

The Blitzboks’s first game on Friday is scheduled to start at 19h03, when they will face the winner of the match between Germany and Chile (11h29) – it’s also the final match of the opening day.

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BLITZBOKS SQUAD (WITH RWC & WORLD SERIES STATS):


Cecil Afrika – 2013 RWC; 66 World Series tournaments (1462 points)
Ronald Brown – RWC debut; 8 World Series tournaments (285 points)
Angelo Davids – RWC debut; 9 World Series tournaments (160 points)
Selvyn Davids – 2018 RWC; 27 World Series tournaments (564 points)
Muller du Plessis – RWC debut; 20 World Series tournaments (315 points)
Christie Grobbelaar – RWC debut; 8 World Series tournaments (70 points)
Sako Makata – RWC debut; 16 World Series tournaments (60 points)
Mfundo Ndhlovu – RWC debut; 10 World Series tournaments (60 points)
JC Pretorius – RWC debut; 20 World Series tournaments (225 points)
Siviwe Soyizwapi (captain) – 2018 RWC; 40 World Series tournaments (670 points)
Impi Visser – RWC debut; 21 World Series tournaments (115 points)
Shaun Williams – RWC debut; 7 World Series tournaments (80 points)

Springbok Women’s Sevens squad (with RWC & World Series stats):
Marlize de Bruin – RWC debut; 1 World Series tournament
Nolwazi Hlabangane – RWC debut; 1 World Series tournament
Felicia Jacobs – RWC debut; 1 World Series tournament
Lerato Makua – RWC debut; 1 World Series tournament
Unathi Mali – RWC debut; 2 World Series tournaments
Ayanda Malinga – RWC debut, 1 World Series tournament (10 points)
Zintle Mpupha – 2018 RWC; 6 World Series tournaments (40 points)
Simamkele Namba – RWC debut
Nadine Roos – 2018 RWC; 5 World Series tournaments (79 points)
Mathrin Simmers – 2013, 2018 RWC; 14 World Series tournaments (35 points)
Sizophila Solontsi – RWC debut; 2 World Series tournaments
Eloise Webb – 2018 RWC; 5 World Series tournaments (7 points)