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Hong Kong holds key to England's title chase

25 March 2011

  • 'It's such an important tournament,' says England Sevens boss
  • Lindsay-Hague and Odejobi ready for 'spine tingling' contest

England Sevens coach Ben Ryan

Photo: Getty Images

England have reached a pivotal moment in the chase for a first ever HSBC Sevens World Series title.

Head coach Ben Ryan’s side lead the way going into tomorrow’s Cathay Pacific Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens, level on 80 points with New Zealand at the top of the table.

Perform well in Hong Kong and Adelaide the following week, and England will have an advantage when the series arrives in Europe for the Emirates Airline London and Edinburgh tournaments.

Top seeds England face China on Friday, March 25 (09.58 GMT) then take on remaining Pool B opponents Japan (06.10) and the USA (10.34). Six pool winners and the two best runners-up go into Sunday’s cup quarter finals.

More teams compete in Hong Kong than at other tournaments, meaning 30 rather than 24 series points are available for the winners.

“Because of the extra points, the momentum and the confidence you get it’s such an important tournament for whoever wins it,” said Ryan. “We know we can have a minimum five-point lead on New Zealand if we win.

“The way the draw looks, if everyone wins we wouldn’t get to play New Zealand until the final but we can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got a pretty tricky route out of the pool and past series champions Samoa or South Africa, who won the last tournament.

“We’re certainly in a very good position and it puts an added pressure on players because we have to keep delivering as we are starting to run out of runway now.”

Hong Kong’s unique schedule sees England face Pool B opponents China on Friday (09.58 GMT) before taking on Japan (06.10) and the USA (10.34) on Saturday. Topping the group would put England into a cup quarter final against the best of the six group runners-up early on Sunday morning.

“It’s an emotional pool now because of all the horrendous things that have happened in Japan,” said Ryan.

“We have a close affinity with them on and off the field. We feel very sorry for them and they must be going through a huge amount of turmoil.

“We have China on the Friday night and they’re almost the home team so they’ll go all guns blazing to have a crack at us. The Americans are a decent side and will certainly come up with a plan to negate our strengths. We’ve just got to be on the ball. Being clinical and professional is the key to our group.

“We’ve changed things and we’ll have some surprises for the other sides in Hong Kong and they won’t expect some of the things we’re going to do – that’s one of the benefits of being full time. We’ll continue to change things game by game so that people can’t get the upper hand on analysis.”

Lindsay-Hague returns for England Sevens

England Sevens wing Ollie Linsday-Hague scores at the 2010 Hong Kong Sevens

There is only one change in personnel, though, with Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Harlequins) returning from injury in place Simon Hunt (Birmingham & Solihull), while experienced forward Greg Barden (Royal Navy) and rookie Mark Odejobi (Esher & Brunel University) play in Hong Kong for the first time.

Lindsay-Hague warmed up with Aviva Premiership outings on the wing for Harlequins and is eager to recapture the form that saw him finish as England’s leading try scorer at the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens at the start of the series.

"Dubai was one of the biggest highs of the season and it was going really well for me before I was injured in South Africa," said Lindsay-Hague.

"I chipped bones in my foot and sprained an important ligament. I had to be really careful with it and was out for two and a half months. Hong Kong last year was my first major tournament and I played every minute. The atmosphere's incredible, last year will help me and I won't be as nervous."

Odejobi was an IRB Junior World Championship finalist on the wing for England U20 in 2008 and made his sevens debut in Las Vegas earlier this year.

The 23-year-old is studying for a Maths and Computing degree at Brunel and will combine revision for exams in May with his rugby programme.

"I can't wait and I can imagine it's quite spine tingling," said Odejobi, who has added up the benefits of switching from backs to forwards in both forms of the game.

"With us going so well this year we can really make a good impression and with it being 30 points rather than 24 for a win that could be a massive boost for the rest of the year.

"I've changed to flanker and I’ve played one game there for Wasps A and one for Esher so far. Playing in the forwards at sevens is pretty similar to playing seven at 15s, so if I do play any more 15s it will be there."

England Sevens squad for Hong Kong

Greg Barden (Royal Navy), John Brake England Sevens), Dan Caprice (England Sevens), Chris Cracknell (England Sevens), Ben Gollings (England Sevens), Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Harlequins), Dan Norton (Bristol Rugby), Mark Odejobi (Esher and Brunel Univ), Tom Powell (England Sevens), James Rodwell (England Sevens), Nick Royle (England Sevens), Mathew Turner (England Sevens).

You can watch England Sevens in action on May 21 and 22 at Twickenham Stadium in the Emirates Airline London Sevens, the penultimate leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. Tickets are available from £15 via RFU.com.