Blitzbokke Coach, Neil Powell, recently made history with the Blitzbokke by winning the HSBC World Sevens Series in Paris. Not only has Neil won the tournament as a coach but also as a player during the 2008/2009 season when he was a part of the squad.
Having attended our Advanced Coaches Course before becoming a professional coach, we chatted to Neil about his career, life and advice for young players and coaches.
- Did you always want to be a professional rugby player?
Neil: “I won’t say I wanted to be a professional rugby player because rugby only became professional when I was in grade 12 but I always wanted to become a Springbok rugby player.”
- Did your parents play any sports? If so, on what level?
Neil: “My Dad grew up poor so they could not afford to play sport at school; he only started playing rugby after school. My Mom played netball for South-West Africa (Namibia).”
- How did their role impact on your sporting life?
Neil: “They were so supportive, never missed any of our games of and that meant the world to my brothers and I.”
- How did you first get noticed in rugby?
Neil: “I guess it was at primary school. I got the opportunity to play Under-13 Craven Week for the Free State.”
- When did you first start playing sevens rugby?
Neil: “I started playing 7s in 2001 (aged 22), then went on to play 15’s in 2003, and came back to 7’s at the end of 2007.”
- What did you love most about being the captain of the Blitzbokke?
Neil: “I just loved the responsibility that was given to me – to make decisions on the field. I loved the challenge of trying to outwit the opponents by making the right decision.”
- How did it feel to bring back the bronze medal for your country in the 2010 Commonwealth Games?
Neil: “I think as South Africans we will never be happy with a third place but still thankful to get a medal.”
- Can you share some of the highlights of your playing career with us?
Neil: “There have been a few – winning SA 7’s first ever tournament in Wellington in 2002, winning the South African-leg of the World Series for the first time in 2008, winning the Sevens World Series in 2008/2009, and winning the World Sevens Series with my team this year.”
- Why should young players consider playing sevens rugby at school, at a club, socially or as a career one day?
Neil: “I think it’s a great game to develop your individual skills. You need to be good in attack, defence and contact skills to be successful in 7’s. The game of 7’s helps to develop a player’s individual skill in all areas of the game.”
- What differentiates a sevens player from a 15s player?
Neil: “I think, for me, it’s intensity and work ethic.”
- What skills can sevens teach players that can help them in 15s?
Neil: “All round skill. From the basics like passing and catching to aerial skills, contact skills, vision and decision making.”
- Do you think school coaches should be introducing sevens rugby into practice or as a sport?
Neil: “Yes, I do. Especially at the early stage of rugby coaching – at under-9 to under-13 level. I don’t think there is a better game to teach kids the basic skill and fundamentals of rugby in both attack and defence.”
- What is your favourite thing about being the current Blitzbokke coach?
Neil: “It’s being part of this incredible system and to be able to make a difference to the players lives off the field.”
- How can young players wanting to play professional sevens rugby someday get noticed?
Neil: “To play in as many 7’s tournaments as possible. We do get our scouts (Marius Schoeman and Paul Delport) out there to scout for new talent. We also scout at school tournaments like Wildeklawer Rugby Tournament, Easter weekend school festivals and all junior level tournaments, and then our own Craven Week 7’s and national 7’s tournaments.”
- You’ve attended the Investec International Rugby Academy’s Advanced Coaches Course; how did it help you in your career as a coach?
Neil: “It was my first coaching course and I was still a rookie coach so had so much still to learn about coaching and managing a system. I learned a lot from the high profile, high performance coaches that were teaching at the course.”
- What made you enrol in the coaching course?
Neil: “I wanted to up-skill myself as a coach and this course presented the opportunity to do that with all the high-profile coaches that were there.”
- Why should coaches enrol in the academy’s coaching course?
Neil: “You get a good insight into what it’s like to coach at Super Rugby and Currie Cup level from coaches that have worked at that level before. You get a chance to learn what high performance coaching is all about and learn from each other by sharing ideas and coaching philosophies.”
- How can the academy help young players?
Neil: “I think it will help them a lot because they will get specialist coaching by coaches that have either played or coached at the highest level.”
- What was your favourite thing about attending the academy’s courses?
Neil: “Being able to share ideas, not just with the high-performance coaches, but also the coaches that attended the course. You can learn something from everyone.”
- What advice would you give young players and coaches?
Neil: “I think it is important to set yourself realistic short and long term goals. Once you have them, find the motivation to achieve them – find your “why”. Your reason is different to someone else’s, so make sure it is unique. Then lastly, work really hard to achieve them but hard work is never a guarantee – be persistent.”
- What is your motto?
Neil: “You don’t learn to climb mountains by going around them or by taking an elevator. You learn by climbing moun”