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Ben Ryan column: '09 heartbreak and a Russian fairytale

26 June 2013

  • Ben Ryan gives the inside track on RWC Sevens preparations
  • Campaign begins against in Olympic Stadium against Portugal on Friday
England Sevens

Photo: Getty Images

I am sure this has been a special week for all the competing teams in Moscow and I am also certain it will feel very different to a World Series event. This World Cup will bring a lot of unique and memorable moments.

It is the first time an Olympic stadium is hosting a global rugby event and the first time Moscow has hosted such a big rugby tournament. It is an amazing city – one we visit every year in the European Grand Prix series – but for all teams coming from outside Europe, it is a place few will have played in before.

The next World Cup will now not be until 2018, which will mean for many of the players this will be their only chance to win the World Cup.

A three-day tournament and reseeding for the knock out rounds is also different to the usual format. There is a reason tournaments like this are only once every four years – it makes it more special and heightens everyone's endeavour to do their very best.

For England, we can't wait for the weekend. It has been a steady build up towards Friday night and our first group game against Portugal. Two third-place finishes in the last two World Series events, record wins against Samoa and Fiji and a tournament win in the first round of the European Series defending our European title gives us some good results and momentum to build on.

England Sevens' Marcus Watson breaks clear against Argentina at the Marriott London Sevens

Photo: Getty Images

Players have also returned to fitness and had valuable game time too. Of course, it goes without saying we would have wanted to turn those third places into wins and as with all games, we learnt some valuable lessons that have helped our growth.

Last week we travelled up to the French Alps and the resort of Tignes for some secluded, high-volume training before slimming the team down to the dozen selected for Russia. It wasn't an easy exercise; they all deserve good news if it was based on effort and application and its tough disappointing someone after they have done all they can do to put their hand up. Those back at home have been just as vital to our plans as the ones here this week.

Training has been hard and highly competitive and it’s meant the 12 picked are in form and ready for the fight. Tignes was great for getting lots of quality pitch time as well as using the natural environment to top up on conditioning. This week is all about tapering now and putting into action everything that has been so good leading into the tournament.

Only Rob Vickerman and James Rodwell are survivors from the 2009 Dubai World Cup. They both remember the utter desolation of losing an incredibly eventful quarter final to an excellent Samoa side that went into extra time. It took some time to sink in that we had been knocked out – it was the most surreal few minutes of my coaching career. I watched us score on the last play of the game to go into extra time. In sudden death, the referee told one of our team he was offside and knowing that if they acted, a penalty in front of the posts would be given and with it the game. Unfortunately the players either side of him also mistakenly thought they were being spoken to so no one moved and to see the team stand like statues as a Samoan player literally walked in to score the winning try was as weird a finish to a game as I have seen.

England Sevens' Rob Vickerman after the 2009 exit to Samoa in the quarter final

Photo: Getty Images

Four years on and that memory shines as brightly as it did back in Dubai. I guess that’s why a quadrennial event such as this holds so much gravitas with all the teams. Whatever way you lose a tournament, it’s never nice and I am sure every team has a story surrounding their exit but it’s also true that the winners of each and every tournament deserve their victory and come Sunday night, one of the 24 teams will be crowned deserved champions.

Being in Moscow, I will finish with a famous Russian fairytale called The Giant Turnip. Having planted a turnip in his garden, a grandfather finds that it has grown so big that he cannot pull it out of the ground. The grandmother helps him to no avail and one by one all the family try to add their collective might to unearth it, all without success. It’s not until the household door mouse, ‘Mishka' lends her weight that the turnip is gained. For us it is just the same; it’s going to take everyone in the squad and management giving their all that will secure us a World Cup. No point in hiding away from this – our goal is to capture the title and we have the team to do it.

For Barry Maddocks and Susie Appleby and the England Women's team the very best of luck to them – we share a training base and they are in in superb shape for their challenge. They take on Russia, Japan and France in the pools games on Saturday and we will all be supporting them.