On Friday the HSBC World Series starts up again. Normally we are winging our way to Dubai for the opening leg but this time it’s all the way across the globe to the Gold Coast in Australia.
That, in itself, has made the start harder as we go from there to Dubai and finally Port Elizabeth; three tournaments on the bounce, countless time zones and fair bit of jet lag to deal with. I doubt any international side has had that much travel combined with that much intense competition in four weeks but that’s the challenge all the European sides face in the opening three legs.
This England group has worked really hard to get fit, healthy and robust enough to not only survive but be successful this year in the 54 games we will play in the nine tournaments. There have been some big changes in the players’ diets, sacrifices in their social and personal lives, and generally the bar has been raised.
The same though, is the case all around the world as countries begin to mass before the race to Olympic glory. It’s amazing to see the change in all the teams and sevens is truly unrecognisable from five years ago.
Only a couple of years ago, being the fittest team in the world would have given you a significant edge. Now, everyone understands that this underpins performance and they pretty much do whatever it takes to be fit for purpose.
Performance Analysis has also increased. Teams have dossiers of your players’ strengths and weaknesses and they often centre game-plans around it. But the style of most of the teams hasn’t varied too much in the last few seasons. I won’t bore you with explaining how various sides approach the game but bar a few penalty and set-piece moves and kick-off variations, most teams have a DNA that’s relatively identifiable.
This area of our game has seen the most amount of change this year. In fact, it’s been through a complete overhaul. While retaining our desire to offload and keep well away from multi-phase, multi-ruck attacks, the framework and style is totally different.
The onus for us is having a way of playing that suits the type of players we want in our system; this style, our DNA, is simple but stretches the players skill-sets and decision making.
Why the change? England is into the second year of sevens contracts with 12 full-time players on our books. Now we have more contact time, we can really get to grips with how we want to play and approach sevens.
Often when a team becomes full time the obvious plan of attack for is to thicken their playbook – more time, more organisation and more structure. For us, we have concentrated on our skills and decision-making and threaded all that into the framework for attack and defence.
The onus is put firmly on the players to make decisions and for the framework to offer support and options for them. We want players that have great game understanding to come through our system, not neglect it with the crutch of overly structured moves.
It’s not something that will click overnight, we will need some patience but the potential is really exciting this season.
The one thing I do know will appear immediately is the team’s single-mindedness. I’m very grateful to have a group of players that all feel very fortunate to play for their country.
They give every ounce to the cause from the first to final blow of the whistle and will defend and attack for all they are worth. I can’t ask any more and yet again, as another season looms closer, I’m more excited than ever to lead this group. Come on England!