- Simon Amor prioritises defence and consistency ahead of HSBC Sevens World Series campaign
- “We don’t want to be one-flash wonders” – Head of international player development Joe Lydon
Simon Amor’s immediate priority as head coach of England Sevens is to match his side’s electric attack with improved desire and organisation in defence, giving them the solidity and consistency to compete over a nine-leg HSBC Sevens World Series campaign.
With the likes of Dan Norton, Marcus Watson and Mathew Turner among the ranks, England have shown lightning pace and ambition in abundance in recent years.
Norton alone managed an astonishing haul of 52 tries last term – the highest ever in a single season - but that could not stop a rather underwhelming sixth-place finish in the standings behind Kenya and Samoa.
In fact, that final position was boosted by top four finishes at the last two legs in Glasgow and London. And although time is scarce ahead of next month’s Gold Coast tournament, Amor has already pinpointed his first area of emphasis.
“I’m very much about trying to understand the individuals first before going in and making big changes but the timescale has made that quite challenging,” said the outgoing London Scottish director of rugby, who has taken over from Ben Ryan.
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“Looking from the outside, I think there is unbelievable pace in this group with some wonderful threats with ball in hand. They can certainly score some breath-taking tries.
“Defensively is where I’d like to make some changes, making us a little bit more difficult to beat – that’s probably the area of focus first up.
“So many games are won or lost by one score now. My job is to try and make sure we’re on the right side of that line.”
Amor’s vast playing experience – as a former captain of his country and the inaugural IRB Sevens Player of the Year winner in 2004 – was a significant factor in him clinching a role he has aspired towards since retiring from rugby’s shorter format seven years ago.
And the 34 year-old’s former coach at international level Joe Lydon – recently appointed as the head of international player development at the RFU – seemed certain that such on-field expertise would translate into a successful time in charge.
“It’s easy to look back now and say I thought he was always going to be a great coach,” he said. “It is pretty simple, though, because he always had those abilities on the field.
“He was tenacious, in fact probably too tenacious for his own good at times. He was very passionate and very committed and a very intelligent player. One of the things that always impressed me with Simon, which I think will stand him in good stead now, is that he had the respect of his peers and the opposition.
“He was ranked as one of the best players on the circuit, not just from England, but as a world player. He had great ability but was very humble and had ambition to put himself in a selfless place where he could do best by the team.”
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Starting this season with the phenomenal record of 11 victories in the 14 years since the series’ inception, Sir Gordon Tietjens’ New Zealand will once again be favourites. Praising the Kiwi culture and their inherent understanding of sevens, Amor hinted as much.
He also suggested that a crucial longer-term aspect of his new job will be to re-establish the practice of exposing players with Test potential to international sevens competition, explaining the developmental role it can play.
With Christian Wade and Tom Youngs standing as stellar recent examples, Amor said: “I’m a firm believer that sevens can help develop players. It’s critical for the 15-a-side game but it is also critical that we have people who really understand the essence of sevens.
“There must be that balance between sevens specialists and those guys we feel could help with their development, making them better for England 15s and for their Premiership clubs as well.
“I think England sevens can be a key part of the player development pathway while [we are] still winning tournaments.”
An impressive victory at the European Grand Prix in Bucharest this weekend has certainly got Amor off on the right foot, and Lydon – involved in England’s sevens set-up as head coach himself back in 2001 – was confident of seeing that happy trend continue.
“A lot has changed [from when I was coach] – it’s more physical and very professional now,” he explained. “The series can be compared to F1 – the players travel around the world and there can be a perception that it is a bit of a holiday away in sunny climates and enjoy themselves.
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“It’s actually a truly professional environment that takes an awful lot of commitment. To play at the highest level, you need an awful lot of skill and determination. It is rugby under a magnifying glass – reduced in time and numbers but intensified in all other areas.
“I think Simon and the players will have to develop [goals] themselves. Simon has a clear idea of where he wants to take them. I have no problem, knowing Simon, that he will put pressure on himself and on the players in a good way.
“In the same way that Stuart Lancaster does with the 15s, it’s about understanding and respecting that pressure is good and that pressure can be channelled in the right places.
“We don’t want to be one-flash wonders; we want to be teams that can compete at the highest level and be there or thereabouts in every competition in every tournament and in the series as a whole.”