This time Sale Sharks Academy lock Charlie Pozniak gives us a weekly diary as Manchester Grammar prepared for the Rosslyn Park sevens...

Sevens. The nemesis of a lock. We lanky, gangly and distinctly uncoordinated second-rows are not built for the sport designed to bring more exhaustion than a full 80 minutes, more sprinting than we do in a season, and all the handling that we spend eight months a year trying to avoid. For some, Rosslyn Park is a haven on the outskirts of the bustling metropolis, but for some of us it is hell on earth. That said, with the likes of Brodie Retallick and Maro Itoje revolutionising the role of the second-row, sevens presents the perfect opportunity to develop my ‘all-court’ game.

Modern lock: Maro Itoje in training with England

Modern lock: Maro Itoje in training with England

Build-up

Due to our success in the Lancashire Cup, our preparations for the sevens season was somewhat delayed; the semi-final versus Lancaster Grammar was a mere week before our first sevens tournament and meant that we still had a 15s mindset, and mentally weren’t quite ready for the more expansive form of the beautiful game.

Alas, when our cup dream ran short, we were plunged into the depths of unspeakable fitness sessions with our somewhat psychopathic coach; a man who takes pleasure in finding the latest and most effective ways to beast the human body and mind in a quest for physical and mental strength. These sessions mainly involved intense series of sprints, the infamous three-minute run (try line to every other line and back with down-and-ups) as well as several sets of progressively increasing distances of sprinting.

All of these drills were of course conducted with due manipulation, so that we were misinformed in order to ensure that we weren’t strategically pacing ourselves to avoid pure exhaustion, and that we ended up giving everything. In the week before our first tournament on Wednesday, we managed to squeeze in two specific sevens sessions where we had to relearn all the different aspects in a relatively short space of time.

Tuesday

The day before our first tournament was as quiet and relaxed as one would expect; following a bit of a lie in, rousing at 7.30am and sauntering into school at a reasonable time, we had a brief run-through during the lunchtime, just to go through restarts and patterns in wake of the imminent tournament.

This light session was thrown into the midst of an average school day and was neither strenuous nor stressful, as the only thing being challenged was our skill-set, trying to develop our sense for the game as well as our capacity to spread the ball wide across the pitch. That evening, with AS-levels fast approaching brought with it some light reading and some notes on the Supreme Court, in a pre-emptive effort to catch up the work I was to miss the following day, all before some carb-loading. The key problem I have always had with sevens is the little injuries and niggles brought on by overworking; in response to this I worked hard on my rehab and made sure that I was in an appropriate physical state for the season.

Sale Sharks PhotocallFor example last year at Rosslyn I had the beginning of my hip flexor problem, and the year before a slight calf strain was eating away at my speed and agility throughout the sevens period. In terms of rehab, I have a programme from our great team at Sale Sharks aiming to redress my muscular imbalance and relieve tension in the hip area. All in all, it was a relaxed and comfortable schedule before the tournament the following day.

Food

10 Weetabix – Breakfast 6am

Toast – Mid-Morning Snack at 10.30am

Pastrami Sandwich – Lunch at 2pm

Bagel with cream cheese – Snack at 4pm

Tomato Pasta with chicken breast – Dinner at 7pm

Glass of milk – before bed at 10pm

Wednesday 

Stonyhurst School Tournament

We arose at a slightly earlier hour than usual; having to be at school to leave at 8am on the dot. Just before I was due to set off to school, I received an email saying that the tournament at Stonyhurst had been rained off, but that we would now be playing at Giggleswick. No matter what.

The coach journey was long, and the performances average for the most part, interspersed with passages of sheer brilliance, but we managed to play five games almost back to back and were able to demonstrate that when the time came to it, we could play some really great sevens. I felt I’d given a reasonable account of myself, and although my lungs were burning and hamstrings tight it felt great to get the first run-out out of the system. Whilst my post-tournament meal could be argued by some to be “bad for you,” “overly calorific,” or “dangerously high in monosodium glutamate,” so what, I won’t deny the fact – but I bloody earned it. 

Food

10 Weetabix – Breakfast at 7.30am

2 bananas – Before leaving at 9am

Pack of jaffa cakes – On the bus at around 10am

Jelly babies – During our short break at around 2am

Frijj Milkshake – After the last game at 3am

Domino’s Large Half and Half Meatilicious/ Ranch BBQ Pizza – Home at 7pm

Setting the scene: Rosslyn Park's ground

Setting the scene: Rosslyn Park’s ground

Thursday, Friday and the weekend

The day after a tournament you are somewhat brought back to reality as you realise that no one really cares how many tries you scored (none, in my case) and nor do teachers particularly care how you fared throughout the day or your excuse for not having completed the work they’d set. I had missed the last two hours of philosophy lessons due to rugby and thus had no idea who Irenaeus was – all I was thinking about as I tried to catch up was my next meal and when I’d get chance to foam roll my hip flexors. As well as this, I’d be missing three days of school the following week for Rosslyn Park so decided to speak to my teachers early on and get going with my work.

Saturday brought the now typical essay, this time questioning the necessity of the afterlife. Thrilling stuff. Saturday night, however, and hopefully to the relief of Mark Bennett of Bristol Rugby (below), I watched the Six Nations at a mate’s house before his party, demonstrating that I am in fact in possession of a social life.

Training day: Mark Bennett sets out bags for Wales training

Training day: Mark Bennett sets out bags for Wales training

Monday and Tuesday

As we edged slowly towards our Rosslyn Park judgement day, the anticipation began to set in. Injuries revealed themselves, selections were made, and we saw the pinnacle of sevens play in our final session on Monday night before we left on Tuesday.

Preparation for the tournament was notably light due to the structure of the season, but we were able to get in some work on handling in the sessions before Rosslyn and we backed our fitness from our sessions with our First and Second XV coaches – the latter being a successful Iron Man, so no stranger to pain. The conglomeration of indoor and outdoor fitness, from cycling and rowing in the gym at lunchtime to sprinting out on the field after school, meant that we were a reasonably fit side, and were able to back a consistent level of performance.

On the coach journey down I had a fair amount of History reading planned, but as all the best things in life seem to be – it didn’t quite go to plan. We were advised to keep moving, so there would be the occasional stop and stroll around at the service station, but the main challenge of the journey was to not cramp up or get stiff, so there was a fair amount of walking around and stretching on the bus, just to keep loose.

Monday/Tuesday food

Weetabix

Toast

Sandwich

Pasta

(Jaffa cakes, bananas and muffins on the coach)

The tournament

As everyone knows, they put all the most exciting sevens teams as far away from the main pitch to ensure that everyone gets a good view of the seemingly infinite sprawl of land that the tournament boasts. Whilst we were somewhat away from the action when we arrived, our spirits were not dampened, as we played a solid, industrious brand of sevens throughout the day. All of the games we played were there for the taking, with the first match of the day, also our only victory, seeming the most difficult, as we proceeded to marginally throw every single game after that through simple mistakes at the end of passages of immense work. Anyway, we of course took the customary strolls around the stalls and watched how sevens was meant to be played, a revelation to myself and my fellow lock, both of whom had somehow ended up tagging along to this exhibition of speed and agility – not looking a step out of place, might I add.

Despite this the day was still enjoyable, and we played some really nice stuff at times. The evening brought exhaustion and a team trip to Pizza Express, and with my post-tournament dietary routine, who needs protein shakes when you’ve got pizza?

Food

Hotel breakfast (full English: beans, bacon, sausage, hash browns, tomato) – Breakfast at 8 am

Snacks of jelly babies, jaffa cakes and bananas – Interspersed throughout the day

Calzone from Pizza Express – Dinner 7 pm

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