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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Dubai Rugby Sevens: Blitzboks coach open to taking on Springboks role

Neil Powell says he is willing to help out South Africa's 15-a-side team, who have won just 11 of 24 matches under Allister Coetzee, whose job is reportedly under threat

South Africa men's sevens coach Neil Powell said he is open to the idea of coaching the XVs team, should he be asked to. Tom Dulat / Getty Images
South Africa men's sevens coach Neil Powell said he is open to the idea of coaching the XVs team, should he be asked to. Tom Dulat / Getty Images

Neil Powell, the South Africa sevens coach, says he would be willing to switch to the 15-a-side game to help the beleaguered Springboks.

Powell has enjoyed appreciable success in the abridged code since stepping up from the playing ranks to take over from Paul Treu, the former coach, in 2013.

The Blitzboks are the reigning World Sevens Series champions. They have also won Commonwealth gold and Olympic bronze medals during Powell’s spell at the helm, and they were recently named the team of the year across all sports in South Africa.

Their success directly contrasts the fall of their XVs colleagues. Allister Coetzee, the Boks coach, has been facing mounting criticism after overseeing a miserable run of results in Test rugby.

On his watch, they have won just 11 of 24 matches, suffered record losses to New Zealand and Ireland, and have also lost matches to an out-of-sorts Argentina and Italy.

Although Coetzee said before Saturday’s Test against Wales that he is “definitely going to Japan [World Cup] in 2019”, it is doubtful whether he will still be in a job once the autumn series is reviewed.

Powell is focusing on readying his side for a defence of both the series and Commonwealth Games titles this season, but would like to be part of the solution to the XVs problems.

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“There are a lot of discussions taking place at this stage regarding Springbok XVs,” Powell said, ahead of his side’s Emirates International Trophy defence in at the Dubai Rugby Sevens this weekend.

“Everybody has been asking, ‘Will Allister stay, or will he go?’ I think there will be a lot of movement, and if they ask me to go and help the XVs side, I definitely will do it.

“As it stands now, I still have a contract with Springbok Sevens until 2020. Whether it be with XVs or sevens, the important thing is just try to make South African rugby better.

“If I can contribute in any way to do that, I will gladly do it.”

For now, the Blitzboks are focused on success in Dubai, and they have powerful squad to choose from ahead of their first game against Uganda at 10.52am on Friday at The Sevens.

It includes several players who have caught the eye in the 15-a-side game, such as Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla.

Smith, the flanker, has been conspicuous in major matches in recent months. He started for Lions against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final, when his red card was arguably the seminal moment in the match.

He was also named man of the match when the Barbarians ran New Zealand close at Twickenham at the start of the autumn series.

Powell is grateful to have players of his ilk back in the sevens programme, as they plan for a busy season which includes the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April, and the World Cup Sevens in United States next summer.

“We are lucky in the sense the guys are wanting to come back to sevens,” Powell said.

“It shows the loyalty towards the programme, and also the culture that has been created in the sevens environment.

“I think a lot of XVs teams are after Kwagga now after that great match against New Zealand. Hopefully we can keep him in the system till 2020, not just him but a number of core players.

“It’s not a given we will get Kwagga and Seabelo because it falls outside of the regulation lines, but hopefully the goodwill of the unions will see them release those players for the Commonwealth Games.”

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