The sevens star moves Stateside for a two-season opportunity in MLR
He may have woken up on the couch with a full day’s training ahead of him. But as he leaves his flat in Hermosa Beach, cruising past palm trees, Tom Mitchell finds it hard to be anything but upbeat.
Welcome to LA, where the long-time England men’s sevens and Team GB captain is set to take up an opportunity with the Giltinis of Major League Rugby.
“This move was first on the radar back in 2020,” Mitchell tells Rugby World. “Back at the Vancouver Sevens, the last event before Covid hit, I was chatting to Stephen Hoiles who’s now the head coach in LA, who was involved with Australia Sevens then. We just had a very casual conversation. He told me he was getting involved with this new franchise and I thought that sounded amazing.
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“I’ve always wanted to satisfy my hunger for world experience through rugby and this sounded like one of the better ones. But when the Olympics got pushed by a year (from 2020 to 2021) I spoke to Hoilesy and said I want to do the Olympics, I want to continue this journey we’ve been working on. So I wasn’t really in touch with him for a long time, and then when I got back after Tokyo, in August I just started the conversation again.
“To be honest I was in a bit of a strange place post Tokyo. There were a lot of emotions, obviously. I was injured. There were a lot of question marks. I was like, ‘Maybe I should actually call it a day here’. You know, I’d had a good career. Maybe the Olympics was a nice way to finish and I genuinely considered just stopping. But then I realised I still wanted to play rugby. And I thought, ‘Well, don’t just sit on your ass and expect things to fall in your lap or just feel sorry for yourself.’ I got back in touch with Hoilesy and fortunately there was still an opportunity.”
There are several elements that make the move particularly exciting. First, there is a recent success, after Giltinis won it all in their very first season in the MLR. Then there is the opportunity to play with some exceptional players, like Matt Giteau and Dave Dennis. But there is also the sense of taking on a challenge.
Mitchell and wife Flo left a good set-up near the mother-in-law, where childcare support for their nine month old was on offer. They didn’t really know anyone in LA outside of the team. But they knew they had made a good choice with Hoiles himself picked up the family from the airport, with a carseat for the wee one ready to use too. The playmaker is ready to get going.
Having undergone surgery following a knee injury at the Olympics, Mitchell doesn’t expect to be back on the field until March. But when he does, he is excited to use a few other weapons in his armoury. After all, he has spent the last decade as a sevens specialist. And he will have two seasons with the Giltinis to roll out, with full-back a god option for him.
The MLR season also has enough space on either side to accommodate other opportunities. And, as Mitchell explains, perhaps the sevens chapter of his career isn’t over yet.
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“The Giltinis are very switched on when it comes to sevens talent. And given the nature of the season here, they’re very open to the opportunities that can come for boys involved in sevens as well. I’m not looking too far ahead – at the moment I’m just trying to get fit and get on the field – but obviously, there are a couple of tournaments coming up in the summer, which would be would be interesting to be involved in.
“There’s a bit of me that doesn’t feel like I’m totally done with sevens because of the way the Olympics panned out for me anyway. I’d like to go out on a slightly different narrative. In terms of the rugby, getting injured midway through that tournament, with no crowd… It’d be nice to do it slightly differently.”
Never say never. If you are open to new avenues you can create brand new stories. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, those avenues are lined with palm trees.
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