Tuesday 5th December 2006
Sale flanker Michael Hills is currently in George with the England Sevens team. It is his second trip to the beautiful Garden Route town, having played there with his school Mount St Mary's in Sheffield. England may have lost to eventual winners South Africa in the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens last weekend, but are now focussing Friday's Emirates Airline George Sevens. He says, "I played in George before when I was about 16 with my school but didn't realise until I got here that it was the same place as back then. We played at the local public school and we drove past it on the way to the gym this morning. I am hoping it will be a good omen as we won the tournament."
Michael is a member of the core England Sevens squad this season and earned his first cap for England last weekend in Dubai. "Now I have played England Sevens I can definitely confirm that it is hugely competitive and physically tough. There is no time to catch your breathe or even think about what you are doing. You never stop and just have to keep going. I was impressed by the high skill levels especially when it was so wet. It just shows you how skilful it could be this weekend in the dry. It is a hard two days but the team atmosphere is great and you pull together for each other."
He continues, "It was disappointing not to win Dubai but we have to keep get focused on George now. We have a new tournament to play in and a new opportunity to win. We arrived in South Africa yesterday and begin training today. We played pretty well and we did get better as the tournament went on. However, South Africa did have a more experienced side than us and on the day I don't feel that England played as well as we could and therefore we lost. We could and should have done better.
"When I found out I was playing in Dubai I wasn't expecting it to be cold and raining. It rained pretty much all day on Saturday and the conditions were awful. But we didn't make too many handling errors during the tournament and that is probably because we are used to playing in the rain - especially with me playing in Manchester!
"The referee didn't help very much around the break down but just like us, sevens is used as a development tool and we have to accept that the referees are learning just like us.
"My overriding memory of Dubai will be the development and construction. We went to a really nice hotel in the desert for dinner before leaving for here, and I got to go on a camel for the first time. I didn't realise that camels got up and sat down in the way they did so it was a bit of a shock for me and Andy Vilk who was on it with me!
The squad travelled from Dubai to George yesterday with 14 teams all travelling on the same flights. Michael admits that travelling is not his favourite bit of the trip. "The journey was long and not very enjoyable, especially as we were all on a flight which left at four in the morning. Things seemed to work against us all the time - we were delayed and had to fly via Johannesburg airport where we had to collect all our luggage and then re check it in. I am not sure that either Jo'burg or George airports were ready to cope with 14 rugby teams arriving at one time so there was a lot of hanging around and waiting. When we finally arrived at the hotel we went for a quick session on the beach which turned into a fairly competitive game of rounders. I am proud to say that my team won and it was great to be able to stretch the legs and get some fresh air after the journey.
"This morning we had a gym session and trained pretty hard, and this afternoon we have our first full training session at a local school. The weather is pretty hot and it is good to have some sunshine after the rain of Dubai but we have to be careful and are not allowed to sunbathe. I have done quite a bit of training in the hot weather with various England teams in the past so am lucky to know how hard it can be. It is always harder actually playing than training in the heat anyway."
South Africa won in Dubai and are going for back to back wins this weekend in George, something only New Zealand have ever achieved. Hills knows that they will prove a tough team to beat, "They will definitely be a threat this weekend as they have got the same, strong squad that they had in Dubai. But, just as in Dubai, anyone could win on the day. I would love to get one back on South Africa especially on their home turf. New Zealand and Fiji will be desperate to win as well so it will be a tough tournament."
Keep up to date with Michael and the rest of the team's progress in George at rfu.com/sevens