ENGLAND SEVENS today named their squad for the 2011-12 season, increasing the number of full-time players available to head coach Ben Ryan and confirming significant names in their additional ‘core’ group.
England will have 12 fully contracted players – four more than last season – with forward Chris Brightwell, playmaker Christian Lewis-Pratt and centre Rob Vickerman the newcomers.
The players promoted who were involved in 2010-11 are wing Dan Norton, England’s leading try scorer with 32 last season, who joins from Bristol Rugby, experienced back Simon Hunt, who moves from Birmingham Solihull, and former Bristol Rugby and Royal Navy flanker Greg Barden.
Three more players are in the ‘Core Squad’, contracted by clubs with the RFU paying a percentage of their salaries. They are wing Marcus Watson (Saracens), half back Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Harlequins) and forward Isoa Damudamu (British Army). A further ‘Wider Squad’ group will be named later this year.
This is the second season for which England have contracted full-time players and head coach Ben Ryan believes the competition for places will continue to drive up standards as the squad prepare for the start of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Ryan said: “We wanted more flexibility and more competition for places and we’ve got that. What we didn’t want was a group that was comfortable and assured of their places in the squad for the HSBC Sevens World Series tournaments.
“We won’t throw the kitchen sink at it until we know we’ve got the foundations right but this is the next step in the evolution of our structure. It gives us competition as well as cohesion, continuity and stability.
“Players increasingly have to make choices if they excel at sevens and can choose it to be a section of their career. There aren’t many contracts on offer and every year more will want them so people will have to keep raising their game to retain their spots. They are pioneers but they have to perform.”
England finished third in last season’s HSBC Sevens World Series, winning the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens title and reaching finals in South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong.
The squad has started pre-season training in the build-up to the 2011-12 campaign which kicks off with the Gold Coast Sevens in Australia on November 25-26.
New full-timers Brightwell, Lewis-Pratt and Vickerman join after playing in the Aviva Premiership for Sale Sharks, Leeds Carnegie and Newcastle Falcons respectively.
Brightwell, 26, appeared in all eight Sevens World Series tournaments for England in 2009-10 while Vickerman, 25, made his sevens debut in 2004 and featured in tournament wins in Wellington and London in 2009.
Lewis-Pratt, 20, made 11 appearances for Leeds Carnegie last season and signed for England after scoring 191 points in this summer’s four FIRA AER European Grand Prix Sevens tournaments in Lyon, Moscow, Barcelona and Bucharest.
England Sevens contracted players:
Isoa Damudamu (British Army)
Ollie Lindsay-Hague (Harlequins)
Marcus Watson (Saracens)