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FEATURE – England Sevens sprint training

11 July 2014

  • RFUtv looks at how England Sevens are getting even faster
  • “You have to run fast to be able to endure running fast” – Dan Howells

England Sevens already boast a man faster than Usain Bolt, but that has not stopped the squad’s drive to get even quicker ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this month.

Flyer Dan Norton clocked an astonishing 4.62sec in a 40m sprint test in 2013, two hundredths of a second faster than Bolt's 40m split from the starting gun when he ran 9.58sec to set the 100m world record in 2009.

Anyone who has watched sevens knows speed makes the difference in winning or losing top-level matches, so RFUtv went into camp to take a look at the energy and expertise being put into the quest for a first ever gold medal in the discipline.

Under the watchful, analytical gaze of strength and conditioning coach Dan Howells, the players run through two sprint specific sessions each week. And there are two main objectives, as Howells explains.

England Sevens wing Dan Norton

Photo: Getty Images

“Firstly we’re sprinting to improve speed times and secondly it’s to help with injury prevention – you have to run fast to be able to endure running fast,” said the former London Wasps and England Women’s fitness coach.

“But because it’s a multi-directional sport, with auditory and visual reactions involved, we try and bolt that on too.

“We base a lot of our work on individual needs. Although that was a generic session, some of the coaching points come from high-speed camera work and diagnostics we’ve done on their speed running mechanics and their force transfer through the floor.

“The individuals know those specifics and we talk about them one-on-one between the different drills.”

Although RFUtv observed an all-encompassing session due a shorter training week, the sprint coaching is normally divided into working on acceleration on a Monday and then improving maximum velocity on a Thursday.

For optimum physical and mental freshness, sprint training is slotted into the schedule after rest days and before heavy-load gym sessions, a clear sign of its prioritisation in the thinking of Simon Amor’s England set-up.

Marcus Watson evades a defender

Photo: Getty Images

For Howells, technique is key and each player is working on every aspect of running fast, while allowing for the differing positional demands.

“We’re trying to improve everything for all players because if we can maximise our output then everything else [in the game] should be more efficient,” he said.

“But some people have acceleration development needs, some people have maximum sprinting development needs.

“A Dan Norton needs to work on those flying 60, 70, 80m sprints, while with some of our bigger guys who are ball-carriers, ball-stealers, dynamic runners  or tend to offload the ball more, we work on their footwork and acceleration mechanics.”

Quite understandably, Norton is the star pupil – “really, really good at the top speed work” – but Howell enthused about the feet of playmaker Marcus Watson and the general sprinting talent in the whole group.

“Marcus Watson has amazing feet and footwork, change of direction ability and he’s quick off the mark as well.

“But as a group they are all very, very fast. When you are working with 15s you have a much wider spread of speeds from props to your full backs. We don’t have that here; everyone is more closely-knit in terms of their results.”