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Difficult times for the England Sevens team as they prepare for George

09 December 2004

Thursday 9th December 2004

England began their 2004/05 IRB Sevens campaign with a bang, winning the opening tournament in Dubai in a thrilling final against Fiji last week.  The team have now travelled to George in South Africa and are preparing to defend the Emirates Airline South Africa Sevens title which they won last season.  Mike Friday, Coach of the England Sevens team, was delighted with his team's victory in Dubai but is also frustrated by the forced changes to his squad due to injury and disciplinary action which means he will be without three core members of the Dubai winning squad for the George tournament.
"Everyone is still overjoyed at the win in Dubai. It was one of our aims to win the tournament and it was great to get such a strong start to the season.  The squad are looking forward to George and have had a good couple of days preparing for the tournament.  However, it has also been a frustrating and disruptive week for the squad which is far from ideal preparation.
The injury and disciplinary situation has meant that we have had to call up two new players to the squad - Ben Gollings (unattached) and Richard Haughton (Saracens).  It was a huge relief that Ben was able to join us in George.  Ben was runner up in the 2004 IRB Sevens Player of the Year and played very well for his invitation side in Dubai.  He is a player who knows the England squad very well, has a wealth of experience and currently lies second in the all time points scored table.  I am very grateful to the support and understanding of Rod Kafer at Saracens who has made Richard Haughton available to us and he arrived last night (Wednesday).  Richard is a similar player to Ugo - quick and a prolific try scorer.  All the Zurich Premiership clubs have been outstanding in their support of the team over the last couple of weeks and I am extremely grateful for the continuing good relationships I have with the Directors of Rugby. 
The captaincy transfers to Anthony Roques (London Irish) who I am sure will do a tremendous job. He has captained the side before and brings experience and remains composed at all times - something which has been important this week in particular!  All three players who are unable to play are still out here in South Africa and have been involved with coaching and motivating the team which has been a great help.
The injury to Simon Amor (Gloucester) was very frustrating as he is such an an integral part of the team and a strong leader.  It was exasperating that the injury came about through foul play off the ball and the offending player has only had to serve a short ban and will be in action this weekend, whereas Simon is sidelined for several weeks. Ugo Monye (NEC Harlequins) is always a key member of the squad as he is just so quick and he was on great form in Dubai. He is someone who actually scares the oppositions defence and will be great loss to the squad.  Pat Sanderson's (Worcester Warriors) ban for two weeks following an incident in the Zurich Premiership is also frustrating for the squad. Pat has been in tremendous form recently and is the most experience forward we have.  His performance in the final against Fiji was outstanding and he will be greatly missed this weekend. 
From now on, we must ensure we remain fully focused and concentrate on the task in hand. We are at an immediate disadvantage to the other 15 teams by only having 11 players in our squad but those 11 are all talented and special players who are able to win any match on any given day.  I have great confidence and belief in the squad and am in no doubt they have the talent to succeed.  I was very proud of the way the three new players (Mathew Tait and Ollie Phillips from Newcastle Falcons and Neil Starling from Northampton Saints) performed in Dubai and will be looking to them to continue to develop and establish themselves as part of a winning England Sevens squad.  The competitive nature of IRB Sevens means that it is tough for a 12 man squad to succeed at the best of times but, to have to handle two major injuries and a disciplinary decision which didn't go our way in the same week will certainly test the squads resolve.   The squad is committed to ensure that these uncontrollable circumstances will not affect us going into the first day.
The South Africans have shared some of our injury worries this week but have been able to draft in some Super 12 players so will still be a challenging side should we meet them in the tournament.  The New Zealanders will also have been disappointed by their result in Dubai and are sure to come to George looking for a win. 
It was clear from Dubai that the playing standards amongst all the countries has really risen this season. Any of the teams in the quarter finals could have gone on to win the tournament. You only have to have watched our match against Scotland to see how they have improved over the last few months and to see what a threat any of the teams participating in the tournament can be.  Fiji looked very impressive and were a real challenge to us.
It will certainly be a challenge on Friday as we face Kenya, Ireland and Australia.  The Kenyan's are incredibly quick, the Irish looked impressive in Dubai with several new players coming through and Australia showed us last week what a threat they can be.  However, we intend to build on our performances in Dubai and are determined to put the difficulties of the past week behind us and show everyone what the England team are capable  of."
England face Kenya (08.44 GMT), Ireland (11.50 GMT) and Australia (16.02 GMT) in the pool matches tomorrow (Friday 10th December).