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Rob Vickerman is adapting to “a completely different world” after leaving Newcastle Falcons to join the England Sevens squad on a full-time basis.
The former Leeds Tykes centre signed a two-year contract this summer and is a month into preparations for the HSBC Sevens World Series that kicks off in Australia later this year.
25 year-old Vickerman is one of 12 centrally contracted players whose routine is based around weekly three-day camps in London, solitary fitness work at home and warm-up tournaments in Argentina and Spain before the series starts at the Gold Coast Sevens on November 25-26.
“I set high standards for myself in terms of fitness – I like to think that’s one of my strongest points – but this is just a completely different world,” said Vickerman.
“You can be fit and agile and fast in a 15s world and when you come into a sevens environment you’re bottom of the ladder and it’s a long way up.
“There are some unbelievable athletes in this squad. You just have to look at some of the results we’ve been getting in fitness scores. They are literally world class athletes in their own right – very powerful, very pacy and with that they have rugby brains, too, so coming into this environment I have had to get switched on pretty quickly.”
England, who finished third in last year’s series, are in their second season with full-time players to cope with the athletic demands of a sport booming following its Olympic inclusion from 2016, as well as an expanding list of global tournaments.
After kicking off in Australia, they defend their Dubai title (December 2-3) before heading to South Africa's new venue in Port Elizabeth (December 9-10). The series restarts in 2012 with tournaments in Wellington, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Edinburgh ahead of its conclusion at Twickenham with the Emirates Airline London Sevens.
Vickerman is adjusting to the switch from the 15-a-side game after making more than 50 Aviva Premiership appearances, as well as featuring in 10 Sevens World Series tournaments, having made his England debut as an 18-year-old in 2004.
“(Coming over) was a huge decision to make and a lot more people will have to decide in the future whether they want to go down the sevens route or to 15s,” he continued.
“I was lucky enough to get to my 50th Premiership game which was a big thing. I’ve had my frustrations with injuries but that was a real milestone and I’m very proud about it.
“I’ve got a lot of things I want to achieve in the sevens world, though, and really wanted to give that a go. For me to come into the full-time environment is the best way to do that. You’re wholly focused on being a sevens player.
“There are only 12 contracts in the country on offer and it’s a prestigious thing so it does drive me on. Many other people, particularly on the sevens social circuit, would really want to be where we are and we’ll have to work hard to keep it that way.”
To reach the high standards required, the squad work on their own outside the training camps. Vickerman tops up his fitness in local parks or in the Edge gym on the outskirts of Leeds, but is alert to the temptations of over-training.
“You have to be able to put the extra miles in,” he explained. “You have to be able to get up early in the morning to drive yourself and motivate yourself, knowing that, if you don’t, other people are going to leave you behind.
“A massive part of it can be fear of failure – of letting people down when you are back home – and, with that, it becomes frustrating.
“When you are doing sprints on a treadmill or in a park it’s sometimes hard to come away, but you have to realise that you have to. It’s a great way to train but you have to spend a lot of time getting the psychology of it right. We all have to be smart about it.”