Blitzbok coach faces some big challenges

Despite their best-ever start to a World Sevens Series campaign after three wins in four tournaments‚ all is not plain sailing for Blitzbok coach Neil Powell.

Over the course of victories in Dubai‚ Wellington and Sydney‚ and a runners-up place in Cape Town‚ the squad has lost key players for a combination of reasons.

Bruising forward and experienced veteran Kyle Brown has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury, while playmaker Cecil Afrika missed the last two tournaments, also with a knee injury, and had a minor operation.

The players have the week off and full medical assessments will be done on Monday with the fifth leg in Las Vegas just over two weeks away.

Star back Werner Kok suffered a calf muscle injury on day one in Sydney and was pulled out for the remainder of the tournament‚ but he should be fully recovered by next week.

Even without Brown and Afrika‚ the two most experienced campaigners in the Blitzboks squad‚ they won backto-back titles in Australasia.

But it will only become tougher because they are also now without star try-scorer Seabelo Senatla and ace breakdown specialist Kwagga Smith‚ who have begun Super Rugby duty.

There are a lot of holes to plug‚ especially the Senatla-sized cavity. How do you replace a man who scored 189 tries in three seasons – 32 coming in the four tournaments so far this year?

In addition to his finishing‚ Senatla has also made a series-leading 72 clean breaks. In Sevens‚ breaking the line is the holy grail and Senatla’s pace and awareness cannot be replicated.

On top of that‚ when he is in possession‚ he generally occupies more than one defender. Simply put – he is irreplaceable.

Senatla’s likely replacement‚ Siviwe Soyizwapi, is talented and quick‚ but limited game time means he has some fast developing to do if the Blitzboks want to retain or increase their 17-point lead at the top of the standings.

Powell said good management of players and the introduction of new ones would be high on the agenda in the coming weeks.

“We need to find replacements for Kwagga and Seabelo, and will get some youngsters in,” he said.

Powell pointed to the structures and systems in the squad to help them keep on achieving.

“It had to be a team effort and the whole squad contributed‚” he said of the back-to-back wins in Wellington and Sydney.

“That is important in our culture‚ that no one is more important than the other‚ but that we need to work together for each other.

“Everyone has a role to play and to make a contribution, and we need a good system effort. Nothing will change with regards to that.”

Powell knows challenges await in the next six tournaments.

“We will be looking for consistency for the remainder of the series‚ because if we want to win it‚ we will need to be consistent‚” he said.

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