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Inside England Sevens IV: Ben Ryan column

16 December 2011

  • We're in the title race with one trophy already in the bag
  • But we're only 50 per cent there with our new playing style
England Sevens head coach Ben Ryan

Photo: Getty Images

It will probably never get repeated but three HSBC World Series tournaments in three successive weekends, in three different continents, was testing to say the least.

Things like time zone changes, climatic pressure and long-haul travel are all part of the normal routine on the international sevens circuit. On top of this we had to walk the fine line between keeping on top of everything on the field in terms of training and conditioning but also ensuring enough mental and physical rest for everyone.

So, how did we think we fared? You can see the results and where we are in the table but are we happy with where we are going?

In most areas, I’d say we are delighted. Although we lost three players to injury in Port Elizabeth, none were significant and everyone should be fit for selection for the NZI Sevens in Wellington in February, our next destination.

Before the trip, I set two goals.

First, make sure by the end of the month we are there around the top of the table fighting for first spot. Only four points between the top four sides shows it’s going to be the most competitive series for years and we are one good result away from topping the pile with a long way to go.

Secondly, we wanted to win one of the opening tournaments. We did so in Dubai the hard way in reaching the final playing very well, beating two big rivals in Fiji and New Zealand and tactically getting it spot on.

It makes a significant difference to have players in your squad who have won tournaments. It breeds confidence and belief and perhaps more importantly, it feeds the desire to keep winning.

However, there were a few fish that did get away. Our loss to New Zealand in Port Elizabeth was hard to take. The Kiwis did exactly what we had done in Dubai a week earlier, bouncing back to win all six games and claim the next title.

James Rodwell gets to grips with New Zealand in Port Elizabeth

Photo: Getty Images

Of course they are a good side and Gordon Tietjens made sure everyone was on the same page for the Port Elizabeth tournament as you know he always will.

The competition between the two sides is intense and the games are always close. They have a formula against us that often gives them the upper hand and we think we have a way of playing them that also brings success so it’s a fascinating duel between the two teams.

I expect their squad to be considerably bolstered for Wellington so it's going to be a great ding-dong for the season ahead.

The 12 core teams travel the world together which does foster a lot of relationships between sides but the competition and rivalry keeps most of that at arms length as everyone looks towards a winning programme.

Lots of our routines are the same. Fairly early starts and swim sessions seems uniform across the board and pre-match prep seems pretty similar. The differences occur in how we prepare the team physically, the style of play and the analysis.

On top of that a lot of countries now have full-time programmes. After our European adventure in the summer, it was good to see France and Wales play so well and show there isn't an Oceania stranglehold on the game. Scotland were easily the unluckiest side not to hit the quarter finals and while we might not be quite brothers in arms politically with the rest of the continent, in sevens at least there was a collective feeling amongst us that European Sevens is on a sharp rise.

Another continued work-on for us is our own style. Defensively we certainly had the most aggressive system in place and the games against Fiji showed what happens when you get your defence spot-on. That was really pleasing and it allows us to build on this in the coming weeks.

Isoa Damudamu is ahead of the pack at the Dubai Sevens

Photo: Getty Images

It also meant in attack it freed up some of our key players and you saw Isoa Damudamu, Dan Norton and Mat Turner in particular take advantage of that. Yet we still want more from our attack and there are still big work-ons to get to a level where we can unlock anyone at any time.

The technical things we are doing in training are really testing the players to reach new levels in game understanding and some are still very alien to them. It’s a bit of a crusade for me to continue to work on this and get them playing a style that really will add to what we are doing and not to worry about losing key players to injury as invariably will happen.

I’d say we are 50 per cent of the way there and most of it centres around the players getting more comfortable with altering the tempo we play at. It will eventually permeate through to our game and that’s another reason to get very excited about what is happening with England Sevens.

Make no bones about it. We were at a distinct disadvantage travel-wise compared with the other sides in the top four and while we didn't get things 100 per cent right, it has been a great month.

The sevens game is undoubtedly the fastest moving international sport in the world off and on the field and we can proudly say we are one of the leading lights. The goal, though, is to be much more than that and after a couple of weeks off for the team, we will return to work harder than we ever have. Thanks for all the tremendous support. Come on England!