Did the BlitzBoks choke?

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 09:19

REACTION: Neil Powell, the South African Sevens coach, admitted the players succumbed to 'nerves' in their semifinal loss to Britain at the Rio Olympics.

The BlitzBoks won bronze with a convincing 54-14 win over Japan in the third-pace play-off, a fine rebound from the disappointment of losing 5-7 to the British in the semifinal earlier in the day.

Powell spoke of "ups and downs" when asked about his team's performance in Rio - where rugby, in its abbreviated form, made a return to the Games after an absence of more than 90 years.

"We targeted to be in Final and hopefully win gold for South Africa," an obviously disappointed Powell said.

"Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be," he said, adding that their performance in the seminal simply wasn't good enough.

While he was obviously "happy" to at least get a bronze medal from the game against Japan, Powell admitted that his team was overcome with nerves in the crucial semifinal.

It has been a constant theme for the BlitzBoks throughout the Sevens World Series, where they often 'choked' in crucial play-off matches - losing three times in the Final, going down four times in semifinals and lost twice in quarterfinals.

Only once, in the 10-tournament World Series, did the South Africans go on to win - at home in Cape Town.

"It is almost as if the guys threw the nerves off [got rid of the nerves] and started to play," Powell said of his team's 40-point demolition of Japan in the bronze medal match.

"It is something we have to look at.

"Maybe it is us as the coaching staff that don't get the guys relaxed enough before they go onto the field.

"We will have to have a look at it and see how we can get them more relaxed and get them out of those boxes [nerves] before they run onto the field.

"The guys really played some good rugby [against Japan], it was probably the best performance of the year," he concluded.

* Meanwhile Werner Kok and Cecil Afrika, put a positive spin on the disappointment of losing in the semifinals again.

"It is a phenomenal feeling," said Kok, who was named the World Sevens Player of the Year at the end of 2015, about winning a bronze medal at the Olympics.

"Just to be able to compete here [in Rio] and represent your country, to play for this team and be part of the Olympics was an achievement in itself.

"To add a medal, even if it is bronze and not the gold we came here for, is awesome."

Afrika shared these sentiments.

"This was not the result we wanted as a team, but I am still extremely thankful for the bronze," said Afrika.

"I can say I was part of a team that won bronze at the Olympics and that is special. It remained a massive honour and privilege to have been to the Olympics and to win a medal makes it even more so."

Afrika scored two tries in the match against Japan and said the BlitzBoks used their opportunities in that encounter.

"The guys kept believing in the processes and finished off when we had to," Afrika said.

"Against Britain in the semifinals, the exact opposite happened and we never made use of the opportunities we created."

Kok agreed.

"Against Japan we did not make it bigger than it was and played our structures," Kok said.

"We stuck to our basics. The guys also want to show that we are a quality team and that we can do it."

Both decorated players feel that Rugby Sevens is here to stay.

"The rugby was great and I think sevens has established itself as an Olympic sport. There were the obvious disappointments, but also some awesome performances," Afrika said.

Kok added: "This gives every rugby player a chance to be part of the Olympics. There is now something else to achieve in rugby too and that is wonderful."

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