- Squad on right track in build-up to Gold Coast Sevens
- Leading scorer sharpens up with appearances in National League
Leading try-scorer Dan Norton believes England are in the right physical and mental shape to hit the ground running when this season's HSBC Sevens World Series gets under way next month.
The former Gloucester Rugby and Bristol Rugby wing grabbed 32 tries – including a decisive one in the Dubai Sevens final – as England finished third behind New Zealand and South Africa in the series rankings last season.
Norton, 23, moved from the Memorial Ground this summer to become a member of England's full-time squad of sevens experts who will take part in nine HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments in 2011-12 starting with the Gold Coast Sevens on November 25-26.
England won last year's Dubai title, reached the final of three more events, and went into the final two legs with their chance of claiming a first ever world title alive before taking just six of 48 points available from the London and Edinburgh tournaments.
Photo: Getty Images
"Last year there were loads of positives and we hit more finals than we’d ever hit before," said Norton.
"The only downside was the way we finished the season. Coming into London we still had a chance, so playing in front of that crowd it was disappointing the way we ended up.
"We’ve sat down together, debriefed, looked at the things that weren’t going well and now we’ve started training we’re looking to build on what went well last year.
"With a lot of new personnel coming in we’re trying to play to everybody’s strengths and to make everybody think more. There’s no point going in there and relying on one or two players to do all the talking and thinking. We’re getting everyone to buy into everything the team’s doing.
"I think this year we’ll be a lot stronger than we were last year. We know how we want to play and we’ve all played around 10-12 tournaments now and we have that experience to get us out of trouble. We started well last year so I hope we can start well in the Gold Coast and keep building on that each week."
By the time the action kicks off at Skilled Park in Queensland, the squad will have 12 weeks of pre-season behind them with new signings like Rob Vickerman (from Newcastle Falcons), Christian Lewis-Pratt (Leeds Carnegie) and Chris Brightwell (Sale Sharks) fully integrated into head coach Ben Ryan's squad.
They pack three or four conditioning and rugby sessions into each day of their three day camps in South West London and work on their own at home with Norton topping up in the gym and on the track as well as playing a handful of National League games for Hartpury.
His speed work draws on advice from UK Athletics sprint coach Jonah Dodoo - who is based at Hartpury College - and six tries in his first two league appearances represents a healthy return for club and player.
"As a squad we had a long break off after the European tournaments in the summer and then the first block was six weeks of training so there would have been a long time between the start and the end of pre-season with not a lot of rugby, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn to play at full back – I’m looking to play a few different roles – helping them out and helping me out by getting match sharp.
"I’ve played two games so far and hopefully I’ll play another two or three more before we go to the Gold Coast. It’s a good standard, Hartpury play a good style, which helps me out, and I’m happy just to pass and get on the end of things. It’s been enjoyable and I’m looking forward to helping them as much as possible and vice versa."
Those 32 tries put Norton third on the series list last season, behind South Africa's Cecil Afrika (40) and New Zealand's Frank Halai (35) – an impressive return, though he puts team achievement before personal glory.
"It's nice to win tournaments and that’s my main aim," he said. "For instance when we won in Dubai last year I scored one try and that was in the final.
"I didn’t really score that many at the start of the season. If the team are doing well, which is the main objective, I’ll do well as well, I’ll be getting decent ball so it’s a bit of both. I want the team to do well and if I score tries then it’s an added bonus."
HSBC Sevens World Series
November 25-26: Australia
December 2-3: Dubai
December 9-10: South Africa
February 3-4: New Zealand
February 10-12: USA
March 23-25: Hong Kong
March 31-April 1: Japan
May 5-6: Scotland
May 12-13: England
Tickets are now available for the London Sevens weekend on 12-13 May 2012, with weekend passes starting from £30, single day tickets from £18 and kids tickets at £5 each day. Visit Ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0844 847 2492. (Tickets are subject to availability and booking fees apply).