England dive back into HSBC Sevens World Series action at Wellington
Group games against South Africa, the USA and the Cook Islands
It wasn’t a pretty journey but after just under 50 hours in transit we arrived in New Zealand’s capital city eight days before the start of the Hertz Sevens – the fourth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series – that kicks off on Friday.
I think Wellington is something like the fourth or fifth hardest international airport to land in and it was certainly cross-wind central as the pilot brought the plane down safely to the relief a lot of very anxious travellers.
The first few days are all about getting over jet lag and travel fatigue and we have our own methods of dealing with this. Combinations of caffeine, light, swims, nutrition, spin and gym sessions all contribute to getting everyone reset again and back to as normal as we can be.
Photo: Getty Images
As I’m sure you will see on the build-up coverage from Sky Sports, we also jump off the pier every morning and swim in the open water. I say ‘we’ as someone has to remain on land for health and safety reasons! It was a little unnerving for the lads to see a fisherman catch a stingray as they were about to jump in but all was well as they toppled and twisted their way into the ocean.
It’s been a tradition for us since 2009 and our victory here and we have stuck with it ever since with a growing group of locals and tourists looking on and wondering if we are all the full shilling
The city of Wellington slowly moves into sevens mode as the weekend nears. Fancy dress shops stay open till the early hours, hotel rooms are sold out and on Thursday we have a parade on floats through the city streets.
As the ‘Pommie’ team, we are in front of an Austin Powers lookalike on a float to make us feel more at home and that good-natured banter continues for the rest of the weekend. They love to have a dig at us over here but it’s done with respect and tongues-in-cheeks and it’s a brilliant few days for all the players here in a tournament that gets sold out in seconds and is run fantastically well.
All that fades into the background for us though as we tune up for the tournament. Isoa Damudamu joined the rest of us late as he stayed at home for the birth of his third child. I reminded him of the agreement we had to contract the baby if it was a boy. He was and so we were able to celebrate the youngest signing we have made for a while.
The team has gradually upped the training as the travel effects wore off and we had a good training game against Argentina on sunday to see where we were and try a few things out.
The pitch at the Cake Tin is very quick and suits the flying machines like Dan Norton, Marcus Watson, Tom Mitchell and Mat Turner. Perhaps more importantly, there is a lot of green to cover in defence, so it’s often that area of the game that wins the day in Wellington.
Photo: Getty Images
Our record here since 2009 has been good and this year the competition to win is even stronger. New Zealand have brought in an All Black in the shape of Hosea Gear, Wales and Scotland and others have come in earlier to give it a good crack and everyone looks strong.
The group for us is tough and poses three very different threats. The natural flair of the Cook Islands is up first followed by a quickly improving full-time USA side and followed by the unluckiest of losing finalists in the series so far in Paul Treu’s South Africa. We need to be all at our best this weekend.
It was hard to leave some very good players at home – including some who tasted victory in Dubai this season. This squad is nicely balanced and we can threaten everywhere and be a real handful this weekend.
It’s another great series and will be a fascinating two days. Will the top four sides pull away from the rest or we be joined by more sides blasting their way up the rankings? This series just keeps getting better so get up early, flick the telly on and cheers us on as loud as you can. Come on England!
The Hertz Sevens is on TV from 7am on Friday (Sky Sports 4) and 6am on Saturday (Sky Sports 3).
Tickets are now available for the London Sevens weekend on 12th & 13th 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).