OLYMPIC GAMES / Isolate Powell will be South Africa’s ‘virtual’ coach in pursuit of rugby gold

The South African rugby sevens team have turned to video conferencing in their bid to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics as Neil Powell takes on the role of virtual coach to lead the team from his seclusion room in Kagoshima.

The South African squad has been hit with four infections, one in the sevens rugby team and three in the football team taking part in the Games.

Sevens head coach Powell has tested positive for COVID-19 and has to self-isolate for 14 days, meaning he won’t be on the sidelines when one of the pre-tournament favorites goes pan for gold July 26-28.

But he will continue to help the side he has coached since 2013 with their preparations this week, albeit via a computer screen, and will liaise with assistant coach Renfred Dazel on match day.

“We came to Japan well prepared, with the hard work done at home, so this is just a small distraction from that bigger picture,” Dazel said in an SA Rugby press release on Sunday.

“It’s going well, the players have adapted well to the situation, so well done to them.”

The entire team was placed in quarantine upon arrival in Japan when they were identified as close contacts of an infected person on their flight from Doha to Tokyo. The group, Bar Powell, has since been cleared.

It delayed the team’s arrival at its base camp in Kagoshima from Wednesday to Saturday as they self-isolated in Tokyo, meaning they missed vital training days.

“Obviously we need time on the pitch from a physical point of view, so we’re hoping to stretch our legs a bit,” Dazel said.

“We’re all always in good spirits and understand that we can’t change those things that we can’t control. We managed to add some fun elements into the adjusted training schedule and that definitely helped.”

South Africa won a bronze medal under Powell at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and they will be among the favorites again. They are in Group C with USA, Kenya and Ireland.

The positive case is the latest announced by Team South Africa, including the first for athletes staying at the Tokyo Village.

Two players and an official from the country’s football team participating in the Games also tested positive.

Defender Thabiso Monyane and winger Kamohelo Mahlatsi, along with video analyst Mario Masha, are in isolation as they prepare to face the hosts Japan in their opener on Thursday.

South Africa’s team chief medical officer Dr Phatho Zondi said they were surprised by the infections, but he believes all protocols have been followed for the country’s athletes taking part in the Games.

“Each member of the South Africa squad required full medical clearance as an eligibility criterion,” Zondi said in a statement.

“In addition, they were encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks before departure, monitor their health daily, report any symptoms and produce two negative nasopharyngeal PCR tests performed within 96 hours of departure, in accordance with the requirements of Tokyo 2020.

“The timing of the positive results suggests that the PCR test in these individuals was done during the incubation period of the infection, so they could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan.

“They are now in isolation where they will continue to be monitored and will not be allowed to train or have physical contact with the rest of the squad.”

Perry A. Thomasson