- England's best sevens players start season in pub league
- New signings and well-known stars will be on show at Harpenden RFC
Photo: Getty Images
England Sevens make their first appearance of the new season by going back to their roots at a club sevens tournament in Hertfordshire next weekend.
Sevens is now an Olympic sport so the road to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 will start for England’s players in the unlikely surroundings of the National Pub Sevens at Harpenden RFC on Sunday, August 26.
Established stars like prolific try-scorer Dan Norton, England’s most-capped forward James Rodwell and captain Rob Vickerman will be involved, as well as several new signings.
But England, who won the tournament when they entered as a warm-up for the Commonwealth Games in 2010, are only the No.2 seeds behind last year’s winners, the White Hart Marauders.
And while there are established sides from the domestic sevens circuit on view like the British Army and invitation side Samurai, head coach Ben Ryan’s team – European champions and ranked No.3 in the world – could also be pitting their wits against the likes of Tesco RFC, a local outfit from The Engineer pub and even Harpenden’s own self-styled ‘Mighty’ fourth team.
For Ryan, though, England’s participation is more than just a low-key warm-up that punctuates fitness work before the HSBC Sevens World Series begins on the Gold Coast in Australia on October 13-14.
Connecting with wider Sevens game important – Ryan
"Yes, part of the reason we’re coming back to Redbourn Lane is to give us some pitch time six weeks out from the start of the HSBC Sevens World Series, mixing our side up and trying out some of the things we’ve been working on," said Ryan.
"But the main reason we’re back is down to what we enjoyed most of all about our last visit: the chance to meet and talk with so many players and fans who love sevens and are genuinely interested in what we are doing at an international level.
"Sometimes in professional sport we can forget where we’ve come from. It’s important to us that we all understand what it means to play for England and who we are representing. England teams need to be connected to the rest of the game, so we’d like everyone there to feel free to talk to us and spend time with us as well as taking us on in the tournament."
For their part, Harpenden are enthusiastic about the return of England, who handed their 2010 prize money to charity.
"It’s a day’s rugby and the qualification leagues at the start mean that England could begin by playing a pub side or even our own fourth team," said the club chairman Jonathan Edwards.
"But all the players think it’s magic to be able to have the chance to pit their skills against these guys. When they go back to work and get asked what they did at the weekend they’ll be able to say ‘Oh, I played sevens against England’.
"Who knows? We hope that Ben might even spot one or two of our players he likes the look of on the day."