Olympics-Isolating Powell to ‘virtual’ coach in South Africa’s rugby gold quest

(Reuters) – 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 isolation room in Kagoshima.

FILE PHOTO: Members of the South Africa team wait to be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) at Narita International Airport ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan, July 17, 2021. REUTERS / Issei Kato / File Photo

The South African team has been affected by four infections, one in the Sevens rugby team and three in the football team participating in the Games.

Sevens head coach Powell has tested positive for COVID-19 and must self-isolate for 14 days, meaning he won’t be sidelined when one of the pre-tournament favorites aim for the ‘or from July 26 to 28.

But he will continue to help the team he has been coaching since 2013 in 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 being done at home, so it’s just a little distraction from this bigger picture,” Dazel said in a press release from SA Rugby on Sunday.

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

The entire team was quarantined on 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.

This delayed the team’s arrival at its base camp in Kagoshima from Wednesday to Saturday as they isolated themselves in Tokyo, meaning they missed essential training days.

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

“We are all always in a good mood and understand that we cannot change these things that we cannot control. We managed to add some fun elements to the adjusted training program and it definitely helped.

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

The positive case is the last one announced by Team South Africa, including the first for athletes staying in the village of Tokyo.

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

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

South Africa’s chief medical officer Dr Phatho Zondi said they were surprised at the infections, but he believes all protocols were followed for the country’s athletes participating in the Games.

“Each member of the South African team needed a full medical clearance as an eligibility requirement,” Zondi said in a statement.

“In addition, they were encouraged to self-isolate for two weeks prior to departure, monitor their health daily, report any symptoms, and produce two negative nasopharyngeal PCR tests performed within 96 hours of departure as per 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 isolated where they will continue to be monitored and will not be allowed to train or have physical contact with the rest of the team (s).”

Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Christian Radnedge


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Perry A. Thomasson