Tuesday 6th December 2005
20 year old Ben Foden (Sale Sharks) may not have received the same amount of headlines back home in England as Tom Varndell (Leicester Tigers) but his role in England's second successive win in the Dubai Sevens should not be underestimated. Foden, making his England Sevens debut in the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens last Thursday, scored in all three of England's pool stage matches. England Sevens coach Mike Friday was impressed by his performance over the two day tournament and predicts Ben has a long England career ahead of him. Speaking after the squad's win in Dubai Friday said, "Ben is one of several players in this England squad who is showing all the signs of having a long England career ahead of him. He possesses great natural ability and I am impressed by his performance out here. If Ben puts his head down and really focuses both on and off the pitch I believe that he could potentially play for England many times in the future.
Ben is a member of the wider England Sevens squad and having played in Dubai last week has now traveled with the squad to South Africa ahead of the second tournament which begins on Friday. England are now aiming to win back to back tournaments - something they have never done. Ben said, "Making my England Sevens debut was very enjoyable. It has been a great experience coming away with the sevens team. It is a smaller squad than I am used to and a really good atmosphere. It was brilliant to get the win in our opening tournament but it will be even better to get two in two weeks."
Ben scored tries on the opening day of the tournament against Kenya, Uganda and Australia. "Its always good to score a try in any match but to do it with my first touch of the ball in my first match against Kenya was amazing. It was a great introduction to England Sevens! There were 30,000 people in the crowd which is probably one of the biggest crowds I have ever played infront of and that in itself is a great learning experience."
I have played a bit of sevens during my rugby career including this year's Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham but this is my first international sevens tournament. I really enjoy the different environment this offers me and I am learning a lot of new things such as how to cope with space. As a nine I am usually in a crowded place on the pitch so this is improving my spacial awareness and helping me take on more responsibility on the pitch. Sevens allows me to be more creative and move the ball around more than in XVs and I think sevens suits me as a player. I have been playing on the wing a bit for Sale so this will hopefully help me when I get back to Stockport."
Ben has progressed along the England elite player pathway having played England Under 16s, 18s and this year he played in the Under 21s Six Nations and at the U21s World Cup in Argentina. He has played alongside several of his sevens team mates at England representative level so knows some of the players quite well, "I know Taity (Mathew Tait, Newcastle Falcons) from Under 16s and Tom Varndell through Under 19s as well as having been on a 17s camp with Will Mathews of Gloucester so it has been good fun spending time with them in this environment. Being lucky enough to play for England at the different levels has been a great learning curve for me, and I really hope to be able to play more sevens in the future."
Whilst his Sale team mates are playing and training in the cold and rain in Stockport, Ben has been having to cope with the hot and humid climate of Dubai and South Africa. He said, "The lads back home have given me some stick for coming away with the England Sevens and leaving them in the cold and wet while we are in Dubai and South Africa. But I can honestly report back to them just how tough an experience it is playing international sevens. The level of competition on the pitch has surprised me - it is a lot tougher than I expected and several of the teams, not just the likes of New Zealand and South Africa, have the ability to win each tournament. The tournament is incredibly professional as you would imagine with an England side, and we are training and preparing hard every day."
Sevens is notoriously a game for only the fittest players and Ben has found it tougher than expected to play such a fast and skillful game in the hot climates of Dubai and George. "Its one thing to play sevens at the Middlesex Sevens in the UK in August but another to come to Dubai where it is close to 100 degrees and play it against some of the quickest players in the world. When you have run 50 metres flat out and you are walking back trying to regain your breath you get a burning feeling in the back of your throat which shows you just how hard the competition is."
Foden admits that his sweet tooth is also learning to cope with the demands of being an England Sevens player. Spotted by England Sevens captain Simon Amor trying to eat a slice of chocolate cake when in Dubai, Ben was forced to return the unhealthy pudding to the counter and replace it with some healthy fruit and yoghurt instead. "I am not known as someone who is meticulous about their diet or hydration but with sevens and in the hot weather you don't have a choice. We are tested for our hydration levels twice a day and we really have to take on board as much water as possible."
Captain Simon Amor (Gloucester) has been impressed by Ben's performance in his debut tournament, "He has a lot of natural ability to read the game and has a fantastic pass and step. He has a lot of the attributes that you need to be a top level player. He is also a really nice guy and fits in well with the rest of the squad. He is learning a lot about the professionalism required to be a player at the highest level as we keep telling him the little things make all the difference. The only thing wrong with him is that he beat me at poker so I am not too happy about that!"
Ben joined Sale straight from school and is really enjoying being at the club. "Sale are helping me to develop as a player and have been playing me on the wing as well as a nine which is good experience for me. The Sale match against Llanelli was on in the bar after the win on Friday night so I could keep an eye on the score. It was good to see a few of the youngsters getting a chance in that game and despite the disappointment of the loss it was good for them to get so close in the end."
With just three days to go until his second sevens tournament, Ben is looking forward to getting back on the pitch and proving what he can do. "England have never won back to back tournaments so that is a real motivator for the whole squad. We have got to be confident going into the tournament but we need to be careful as there are so many teams who can win. We face a tough pool which includes Samoa but if we do everything we know we can do then we have the potential to make England history."
Keep up to date with Ben's progress with the England Sevens squad at www.rfu.com/sevens