It was a rough summer of rehab for England captain Tom Mitchell, so he’s relishing the on-field trials of 2016, writes RW’s Alan Dymock.
BEING BACK is more than just a relief for England sevens captain Tom Mitchell. It also offers a series of welcome challenges for the man who endured a torrid summer, having fractured his leg and dislocated his ankle in May.
To make matters worse, he had an additional op on his knee. All told he had five months of rehabilitation hell. So while sevens never gets easier, he is glad to be in the battles again. “I’m not back to my best quite yet,” Mitchell tells Rugby World. “But I’m happy at last to be back on the field and back in with the England boys.
“Part of the challenge of being back is physical but for me it’s not about making gains in strength and speed, it’s about maintaining. Feeling ‘back’ is subjective – and the mental aspect of it is my leadership. There is a different challenge in making sure boys who are new to England Sevens fit in and are learning lessons.”
Here Mitchell touches on what it takes to be a team leader. He sees himself as a playmaker and for that he cannot just “execute basic skills”.
He cannot just be happy with a few moments of brilliance either. He must consistently drive his team.
And he must ensure the others in the squad are happy off the park, ready to give their all on it. It’s not easy when you’re still toiling to get back to your very best. But Mitchell does admit to an unlikely addiction to the really tough training sessions and brutal conditioned games.
It’s a good thing that one of the game’s most recognisable figures has such an appetite for the fight in the harsh environment of sevens rugby. In this most punishing of years – with a ten-leg series and the Rio Olympics in August – there is a push to attract as many new fans to the sport as possible and the players will have a role in that.
“It’s not so much that we have to sell the game,” Mitchell says, “it’s about regularly educating and enlightening people about how the game works. Spreading the enjoyment of sevens drives itself – the thing that attracts people to it is the excitement.”
Fans may still have something to learn about the game. Do you? “You never stop learning about yourself. There is the leadership challenge, where you look at how to get the best out of people. And there are some new guys who have pushed for spots. You can never be 100% sure how someone will do in games.
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“A lot of people play Premiership sevens, for example, but the step up to the World Series is huge. Cam Cowell and Ruaridh McConnochie fully deserved their first caps.”
This was first published in the March issue of Rugby World. For the latest subscription offers, click here.