Sam Rider previews the penultimate leg of the World Sevens Series at Twickenham
England target a grandstand finish at London Sevens
After the free-for-all try-fest served up by England and the Barbarians at Twickenham last Sunday, fans will be in for another treat this weekend as the high-octane, high-scoring World Sevens Series rolls into town.
While Fiji and South Africa sit pretty at the top of the standings, England languish down the table in eighth. Yet, having come off promising performances in Singapore and at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, they will hope to light up London after a disappointing campaign.
“Results haven’t been what we’ve wanted this year,” says England captain Tom Mitchell, speaking to Rugby World on the eve of the tournament.
“It’s been very frustrating and challenging on and off the field. We haven’t been massively off but we’re a long way down in the World Series compared with where I think we should be.”
Related: A week in the life of Tom Mitchell
Twelve months ago it was a different story. England clinched their highest finish in the series since 2005-06, securing second spot in the final standings behind South Africa after being runners-up to Scotland in London.
Yet Mitchell, honest in his assessment they were slow to react to rule changes this season, believes this England side aren’t far off rediscovering their best form.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of close games,” says Mitchell, who has bagged 199 points this season, the third highest in the competition. “Last season we were on the right side and that was what led us to have our best finish in over a decade.
“The World Series is incredibly competitive. You get punished if you’re a little bit off but we know we’ve got the quality of squad to push for finals and win tournaments and we’re working hard towards that goal.”
Team in transition
Finishing second is a habit this England team are keen to shake off, having been runners-up in the final standings four times since it began in 1999.
To remedy this habit coach Simon Amor has blooded a host of young and talented players, most notably Mitchell’s ‘one to watch’ Will Edwards. “He’s got a lot of great qualities, both athletically and as a playmaker so he’s an exciting prospect for the future for sure,” Mitchell says. “Keep an eye out for him.”
In a season of transition, a notable highlight has been England’s performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where they earned a bronze medal to follow up on Great Britiain’s silver at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Mitchell hopes this late-season flourish will set the side up for a big finish ahead of this summer’s Sevens World Cup in San Francisco.
“The Commonwealths was a massive moment for us,” says the 28-year-old. “To come away with a medal and have one of our highest finishes of the year was really special and we’ll be looking to get in and amongst it at the World Cup.
“But first we’re fully focused on London and playing at Twickenham. There’s always an amazing buzz building up to the tournament. We’ll be looking to enjoy it alongside all the hard work and graft and make the most of an opportunity that only comes around once a year.”
England have won a hat-trick of London Sevens titles, with their last tournament victory back in 2009 when wonderkid Dan Norton exploded onto the scene.
That day England clawed back a 19-0 half-time deficit to conquer the All Blacks 31-26 in extra-time, with Norton lighting up Twickenham with a breathtaking score from 60 metres out.
Fast-forward nine seasons and the 30-year-old has amassed a record-breaking 287 tries, with Kenya’s Collins Injera closest to his tally with 260.
“When I started playing I never thought I’d be in this position,” says Norton. “Ben Gollings was captain, top try-scorer and top point-scorer and I thought wow, he’s a legend. To be able to be in this position now ten years on is pretty special. It’s a credit to my family, friends and coaches.
“It would be nice to get to 300 tries but there’s a lot of players coming,” he adds, eyeing the next milestone in his glittering career. “It would be a very nice legacy to have but, come this weekend, I’d rather get a covering tackle in the corner to win us the tournament. That would be the dream scenario.”
The London Sevens at Twickenham runs from Saturday 2 to Sunday 3 June, with England drawn against France, USA and Kenya. To be part of it, ticket information can be found here.
Find out how Welshman Gareth Baber is guiding Fiji to success in the July 2018 issue of Rugby World magazine – on sale now. Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.