- Earnshaw eyes crucial tournament ahead of Rugby World Cup Sevens
- England Sevens Assistant Coach buoyed by return of Cracknell and Phillips
Russell Earnshaw is eager for England to make a solid defence of their FIRA Sevens Grand Prix in Lyon this weekend and has urged his players to prove their worth ahead of the Rugby World Cup Sevens in Moscow later this month.
While captain Rob Vickerman is rested for the trip over The Channel, the experienced duo of Chris Cracknell and Ollie Phillips return to international action after long absences due to injury.
They join new signings Alex Gray and Phil Burgess in an exciting 12-man squad that will be captained by Tom Mitchell.
And following a gutsy end to the HSBC World Sevens Series that a pair of third-place finishes from the final two tournaments of the year, Assistant Coach Earnshaw suggested this was a perfect chance to push for World Cup selection.
“These are pretty important times for us,” he said. “The big picture is obviously Russia and we’ve built gradually in the World Series since Christmas.
“The last two tournaments of the year came down to fine margins and I think the boys showed great character to take third in two play-offs. We’re making good progress and [the FIRA Sevens Grand Prix] will be a good barometer of where we are again.
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“Only 12 go to Moscow so it’s keenly contested – it’s a bit of a stress-point for us with so many people wanting so few places. There are some guys who you’d think would be obvious choices but that is not necessarily the case.
“We’re looking at how we perform as a group and see where that takes us. We obviously want to win because we are defending champions and we always seem to play well in Lyon so it’d be nice to get over there and get a 'W' ahead of the World Cup.”
Turning to the make-up of the squad for this weekend, Earnshaw had special praise for Cracknell and Phillips, whose presence will be reassuring for the fresher faces.
“Crackers has been a rock for us over the past years,” he added. “He knows it’s going to be an uphill challenge for him to get in the World Cup squad because he’s had a long time out. But if there’s anyone in the squad who I’d back to win that battle it’d be Crackers.
“Everyone loves to have Ollie around, too. He has looked great in training and potentially offers us something different than he have in the rest of the side in terms of physicality as a back.
“We’ll see where he is this weekend in terms of his speed, fitness and his understanding of how we play.”