Opportunity abounds for the England Men’s Sevens team heading into the New Year – the chance not only of a maiden World Sevens Series crown but also hope of a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The countdown to Tokyo begins when the first of ten Sevens
Series rounds kicks off in Dubai next week, with England in the hunt for a
first triumph on the circuit after finishing runners-up four times.
Last season was a story of injury derailing head coach Simon
Amor’s hopes for success, as Fiji outfought USA in the showdown for top spot
while England were left to settle for fifth.
Amor’s England squad for the 2019-20 Series boasts four players who claimed silver medals with Team GB in Rio almost four years ago. And an upgrade to gold in Japan next summer tops the former London Scottish coach’s list of priorities over World Series glory.
“Looking to the season ahead, it’s a big one with the Tokyo
2020 Olympics at the end,” Amor said. “With six combined competitions with the
women, it will be an exciting year.
“On the back of a tough 2018-19 campaign, we have a number of players rehabbing injuries at the moment.
“This is arguably the most talented squad I’ve ever had with England sevens which is incredibly exciting for the year ahead.
England Men’s Sevens squad for Dubai 7s (December 5-7)
England: Dan Bibby, Tom Bowen, Phil Burgess (C), Richard de Carpentier, Mike Ellery, Tom Emery, Harry Glover, Ben Harris, Charlton Kerr, Ollie Lindsay-Hague, Will Muir, Dan Norton, Ethan Waddleton
“We’ll have some great players out there. However, with the lack of seven-v-seven training we’ve been able to do throughout pre-season due to the number of players coming back from injury, it’s unlikely we’ll be at our best.
“We know how big a challenge the World Series will be and
our focus this year will be on getting our experienced and talented squad
peaking at the end of a long season to not only earn selection for Team GB but
give Team GB the best chance of becoming Olympic champions.”
England’s wait for an event win on the circuit dates back to
2017 when they proved to be top dog in Vancouver. But 25 events have since come
and gone without the team sending champagne corks flying.
Seasoned professional Tom Mitchell will serve as captain
after missing time last season along with Dan Bibby, while Will Muir and Harry
Glover have both carved out significant roles since being introduced to the
team for this Olympic cycle.
All-time Sevens leading try-scorer Dan Norton, 31, who
surpassed 300 tries in Hong Kong last April, will again be Amor’s wing man in
his testimonial season in the game’s shorter format.
Change is coming to this year’s circuit with Ireland supplanting Japan to become a core team on the circuit for the first time, joining the round table alongside Sevens heavyweight Fiji, USA, New Zealand and South Africa.
Coached by former Australia Sevens general manager, Anthony
Eddy, Ireland have been pooled with USA, Australia and Scotland for their debut
And before jetting off to the UAE on Friday, Eddy vowed his
team were eager to repay the investment in the Sevens programme by the IRFU
with Italy the only Six Nations team now missing on the circuit.
“The players have been looking forward to this for a long
time and are delighted to be recognised as a core team on the World Series,”
“They will be very keen to put in a performance that
justifies all the hard work they have done to reach this point.
“We are well aware of the level of competition on the World
Series and we also recognise we have to lift our performance on a consistent
“There are no easy games at this level so we have to be well
South Africa pose a threat to England’s hopes of a strong
start to the Series after falling by the wayside last season following
back-to-back crowns under coach Neil Powell.
The Blitzboks look ready
to compete again for the title despite the loss of veteran captains Kyle
Brown and Philip Snyman, who announced their retirements this summer.
Powell commented: “We don’t look at anyone to fill their
boots but what we are hoping is that there will be players that make the step
up in their own unique way. I think there are a lot of players that have done
that already in our last season.”
Reigning Dubai champions New Zealand remain blessed with
experience, with co-captains Tim Mikkelson and Tom Curry ever-present in the
team along with Job Webber and Sam Dickson.
Coach Clark Laidlaw believes he has the pieces to mount a
serious challenge to Fiji this year following an improved 2018-19, as the All
Blacks showed signs of the rugby which made them a force under legendary coach
Sir Gordon Tietjens.
But, as ever, World Series and Olympic title holders Fiji are the team to beat.
Fiji’s five event wins last time around proved insurmountable for near rivals USA, but they are yet to win in Dubai since 2015.
They boast reigning World Rugby Men’s Sevens Player of the Year Jerry Tuwai amongst their squad.
USA Women set the pace with first series triumph in Glendale
USA Women head to Dubai as early season pace-setters after their triumph in the opening leg in Glendale.
They beat Australia 26-7 in the final to win on home soil
for the first time in the World Series.
The USA, who had been defeated by France on day one, become
the third team, after Australia and New Zealand, to win consecutive titles in
the Series, having won in Biarritz in the final event of the 2019 event.
USA had earlier pulled off a stunning result in the
semi-final, eliminating New Zealand 19-17 to gain revenge for the defeat in the
final at last season’s Glendale event.
New Zealand ended up with the bronze medal, beating France
31-14. Spain ultimately claimed fifth, beating Russia 24-19 in the semi-final
before grinding out a 12-7 win against Canada in the play-off, Olivia Fresneda
and Eva Aguirre scoring second half tries to overturn a deficit.
England took ninth place at Infinity Park, putting in a much
improved performance from their 21-14 pool stage victory over Japan, to win
36-14 against the same opponents.
England had earlier defeated Brazil 34-14. Invitational team
Japan battled hard to beat Fiji in the
ninth-place semi-final, finding themselves 19-14 down towards the end.
Chiharu Nakamura dotted down with seconds remaining to send
Tagged HSBC World Sevens Series, Sevens, Simon Amor, Tokyo Olympics 2020
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