Wednesday 30th November 2005.
Henry Paul last played for the England Sevens team at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Hong Kong in March. He damaged his medial knee ligaments against Samoa which put him out for three months, but now the 31 year old Gloucester centre is fully fit and can't wait to take to the pitch in the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens which begins tomorrow.
Henry said, "I am feeling really good at the moment and really enjoying being back with the sevens squad. There is a very relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere amongst this squad. I like the camaraderie which you get in this squad and appreciate the advice which all the players get from Mike Friday and Phil Greening (England Sevens Coach and Assistant Coach) and am just very happy to be part of this set up again. I really enjoy the style of play with sevens with the openness the players get on the pitch and the way we can use our skills. The whole game is geared up to promote use of skills and nothing is too structured which suits my play."
Henry is the eldest and one of the most experienced members of the 12 man squad, which includes three uncapped players, and enjoys the dual role which he faces of helping to develop the youngsters in the team as well as playing well on the pitch. He said, "This is one of the best squads I have been involved with. From day one everyone has got on and we are enjoying being together. Its been nice to be able to relax but at the same time come tomorrow when the tournament begins we know that everyone will pull together and focus on the task of winning."
England are seeded third in the tournament behind perennial sevens series winners New Zealand and current World Cup Sevens winners Fiji. England beat Fiji 26-21 in the final last year to take the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens trophy for the first time. England face Kenya, Uganda and Australia in tomorrow's pool stages. Henry said, "I expect the Ugandans to be a quick side and they will keep chasing the ball. The Kenyans I know are quite a physical, big team and are very athletic. They will chase everything down so that makes it difficult for us. The Australians never give up and knowing their coaching staff they will probably have brought in some talented youngsters so they could be a real threat too."
This is the opening tournament of the IRB Sevens and the focus for many of the players is the Commonwealth Games in Australia next March. Henry admits that selection for the Games is a key target for him this season, having played for Team England at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games in which England won the Plate. "The Commonwealth Games is a massive goal for me this season but there are a lot of steps to go before that tournament. Dubai is a great start for me and hopefully I will prove myself to Mike but playing at the Commonwealth Games is definitely one of my main aims this season."
Henry has been involved with the England Sevens team since 2001 and along with Ben Gollings and Gloucester team mate Simon Amor, represents the experience in Mike Friday's young sevens side. "The youngsters are really adding to the team. Ben, Simon and I aren't so much giving advice but are passing on little tips here and there when we are on the training pitch. Its things that we have picked up over the years but at the same time I am learning some things from the youngsters. I have to learn how they like to receive a pass or how they like to run angles so we can quickly gel together as a team. Really its up to them to learn along the way and to get the most out of the experience as possible."
Henry is rooming with 19 year old Mathew Tait (Newcastle Falcons) - the squad's youngster member. Henry said, "I know Taity quite well through both being involved with the Six Nations squad and from playing against him in the Guinness Premiership. I expect him to be a star in this tournament. We all expect alot from each other but this is a tournament made for Tait and his speed, so it helps to be his roomie so I can tease him and give him some stick!"
With less than 24 hours until the start of the tournament Henry is confident that England can do well but knows it will be tough, "I am pretty confident we can win - I like the make up of our team, and everything the coaches have been saying about how they want us to play. But then the matches are a different situation to training and its up to us on the day and how we put it together on the pitch. If we play with a bit of rhythm and space then we will do well. If we make mistakes we will fall on our faces. We haven't yet played together as a team so its hard to say but we have the ability to win. Maybe you should ask me that question on Friday night!"
England begin their defence of the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens at 11.52am (7.52am GMT) tomorrow (Thursday 1st December). Keep up to date with results and reports on www.rfu.com/sevens