Sports psychiatrist keeps SA team grounded for victory.
Shrewd Blitz Boks coach Neil Powell is likely to call in the help of his trusty sports psychiatrist to ensure his team are in the best possible mental shape for the crucial New Zealand leg of the HSBC World Sevens Series on February 6 and 7.
After his team’s win in Port Elizabeth last month, Powell revealed he used sports psychologist Dr Jannie Botha to help his team deal with the pressure that comes with hosting a tournament.
The Blitz Boks arrived in Port Elizabeth after winning the Dubai leg of the series and Powell had been concerned that his team might still have their head in the clouds when the Nelson Mandela Bay tournament kicked off.
Ahead of the Port Elizabeth event, Powell made it clear that Botha had made a big impact on how his team prepared.
“We had a good session with our sports psychiatrist and he helped us to realise that we need to keep the attitude of grafting hard because we can’t stay in the clouds and hope what we did last weekend will help us this weekend.
“We need to get back to ground level, keep our heads down and graft hard. It was a great session for us to realise that and to work on it now,” Powell said.
Blitz Boks skipper Kyle Brown also said the session with the psychiatrist had been good for the team.
So one can expect that Powell will once again call in Botha to ensure his team are totally prepared for what could be a defining tournament in the series.
Thanks to their win over New Zealand in the Port Elizabeth final, the Blitz Boks are leading the World Series log with 59 points after three tournaments.
The hard-running Fijians are second with 51 points and they are followed by New Zealand (47) and Australia (46).
There were joyous celebrations when the Blitz Boks downed arch-rivals New Zealand 26-17 in Port Elizabeth last month to lift the title in front of 36 504 fans.
South Africa are top-seeds and head Pool A for the New Zealand tournament, while runners-up New Zealand, third-placed Australia and fourth semifinalist Argentina head the remaining pools.
This season carries added significance because the top-ranked sides after the ninth and final round in London in May, will qualify directly for the Olympic Games in Rio next year.
The in-form South Africans will be confident of progessing to the knockout stage in Wellington after being drawn against the USA, France and Japan.
Port Elizabeth runners-up New Zealand and defending series champions will play England, as well as Canada and Papua New Guinea in Pool B.
Australia head Pool C as the third-placed team in South Africa and face second-in-the-standings Fiji, Wales and Port Elizabeth Shield winners Portugal.
Argentina will play Scotland, Kenya and Samoa in the other group.
Former EP rugby star Gavin Cowley, now a respected television commentator, says the Blitz Boks have been well drilled.
“South Africa are well organised and in Powell they have got a very good and very shrewd coach, who has kept the team together well,” Cowley wrote on the HSBC Sevens World Series website.
“South Africa have the right blend of players, extreme pace and they defend well despite not being the biggest of sides.
“I think the basics of the game are something the Blitz Boks do particularly well, and their captain Kyle Brown admitted the home crowd carried them along too in Port Elizabeth,” Cowley said.
“As a starting point, Werner Kok and Kwagga Smith are two really hard workers in a South Africa team that performed well as a unit. They are two of the guys who’d play well in any team.
“I have to say, Australia’s Cameron Clark is an exceptional rugby player, as is Zack Test of the USA. I’ve always liked Joe Webber of New Zealand and he played a lot better on day two than he has done in the recent past.”
The World Series consists of nine tournaments held around the world, in which national Sevens teams compete for World Series points at each round, with winners in the Cup, Plate, Bowl and Shield crowned at each location.
An overall World Series champion is crowned at the end of the season based on points accumulated throughout the nine events.
There are 15 “core” teams who participate at each round of the series. Since the 2012/2013 season promotion and relegation from this ever-present status came into effect, and last season Japan were promoted, with Spain being relegated.
Unfortunately, the Blitz Boks will be missing the spark provided by dynamic Cheslin Kolbe in New Zealand and the US.
After their magnificent win in the South African leg of the series in Port Elizabeth last month, Powell will want to consolidate his team’s flying start.
Tournament wins in Dubai and Port Elizabeth have left the Blitz Boks at the top of the log and made them the team to beat in the tournament.
Despite the absence of Kolbe as a result of Vodacom Super Rugby commitments with the Stormers, Powell still has a very strong group of players to choose from.