31 May 2005
England's sevens squad aims to end the season on the highest possible note by retaining the title at the Twickenham leg of the IRB Sevens on June 4-5 and trying to finish as strongly placed as possible in the final tournament in Paris one week later.
England Sevens captain Simon Amor, who is in his fifth season with the squad, assesses the task:
"We need to win at Twickenham because mathematically we still have a chance of catching New Zealand who head the table.
"But we also need to win because it has been a disappointing season in some aspects and if we can finish well in the final two tournaments we can be second seeds next season."
The Emirates Airline London Sevens at Twickenham incorporates the intriguing and emotional farewell match of England's World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson who will lead his own team against one raised by All Blacks legend Jonah Lomu, who has recovered from serious illness, in the Nobok Challenge on Saturday June 4 at 7.30 p.m.
By then the England sevens squad will have completed its first three pool matches against Georgia, France and Samoa.
"These are difficult pool matches," says Amor. "Georgia will field some huge boys, it's like having seven forwards against you, France beat us the World Cup this year, and we squeezed through against Samoa in the World Cup. But if you have a tough pool like this it gets you in the right frame of mind for the final stages."
Amor is a specialist sevens player and has completed his third season at Gloucester. At the same time he has been undertaking a distance learning MBA at the Southern Cross University in Australia.
He started playing rugby when he was eight at Hampton School in Middlesex and was in the London Irish mini-rugby section soon after that--a forerunner to going on to hold his first professional contract with the club. He has played for England at four different levels in the 15-a-side game and his first cap came when he was called off the bench on the schools' tour of Australia in 1997. On that tour he played in every position in the backs except scrum-half, showing a range of skills which are important now to his abilities as a sevens player where he was recognised as the International Rugby Board Sevens player of the year in 2004. Scrum-half is now his preferred position.
Having led England to three successive sevens titles in Hong Kong, it is not surprising that Amor's best memory of competing at this level came in his first final there.
"Waisale Serevi of Fiji was a sevens legend and here I was tossing a coin with him before the final," he says. "We went on to win so that was something I will never forget. I have put the shirt I wore in that final in a frame.
"My worst experience in sevens also involved Fiji. We came up against them in the Commonwealth Games tournament at Manchester in 2002 and we lost by two points,7-5,which was so disappointing after we had scored first."
Naturally England will want to make an impression on home territory at Twickenham and began preparations with the selection of a 14-man squad which was to be reduced to twelve, six days before the kick off. England chose the experience of Amor, Geoff Appleford of London Irish, and Ben Gollings to anchor the squad but also brought in Mathew Tait, the Newcastle centre who made his debut in the RBS 6 Nations' championship against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in February one day before his 19th birthday.
"Mathew is a massive talent and I am sure he will appreciate the chance to play at Twickenham again, straight after the match against the Barbarians last weekend. Ever since the RFU recognised the wider benefits of having a national sevens squad, the players have gone on to prove it. Once people go over to sevens they realise what it can do for them."
Amor stresses that the fastest men in sevens like the England wing Richard Haughton of Saracens have to be capable of putting in any number of sprints in the short span of a tournament.
"It's not just one off sprints, you may have a sequence of them and have to be ready," he says. "You are very close to the opposition during a tournament and you can be sitting with them watching matches, chatting away, and then be playing them within an hour or so.
"Sometimes there is pressure on warm up areas with 16 teams looking to
prepare and you just have to find space."
Amor and the England squad want Twickenham to provide its own special party atmosphere for the Emirates Airlines London Sevens. "Sevens rugby is really growing in popularity around the world and we want to get as many people excited about sevens as possible," he said.