With the Marriott London Sevens starting in just a few hours time, new England captain Rob Vickerman is excited. In what has been a difficult season for England following multiple semi-final defeats and just the one tournament victory in Dubai, England were runners-up in last week’s Glasgow Sevens, beating Fiji in the semi-finals but losing out to New Zealand for the title.
Now finishing the World Series at home for the first time, Vickerman is aware of the pressure to perform in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000 over the two days – something that he relishes. “I don’t think you can ever play in a home tournament without there being any pressure. I personally thrive on that and I know the team collectively do as well. We’ve got guys like Mat Turner and Dan Norton who want to be scoring tries in front of thousands of people every weekend – that’s what the play the game and put the hard yards in for.”
Turner is one of three nominees for IRB Sevens Player of the Season and the only one not from New Zealand, who are represented by Tomasi Cama and Frank Halai. After enjoying a stellar season where he has notched up 33 tries, only bettered by Dan Norton, Vickerman is delighted for England’s new star. “Mat is just so laid back in what he does. I’d like to think that he’s not fully aware of his capabilities and he’s very humble and modest when it comes to teamwork. From my personal perspective as a forward, when you see guys like him with ball in hand running 80-90 metres it’s fantastic.”
With Greg Barden retiring from Sevens following this year’s Tokyo tournament, Vickerman’s promotion made sense given his role as vice-captain so far. With his new found responsibility, the former Leeds and Newcastle centre has big ambitions for where England go from here.
“It hasn’t made a huge difference (becoming captain). As vice-captain throughout the year I’ve always had a hand in the leadership side of things, but it’s more about trying to instill a real spirit within the team which I think we have at the moment. We’ve talked in the week about creating this culture of really hard work, enthusiasm, positive and enjoyment.”
“My beliefs in how a team should be run are similar to Stuart Lancaster, so the pro-active way in which Ben Ryan trains the side creates that real step in our stride. If we can be a team that just works hard for each other and plays with width then we’ll be happy.”
“There are plenty of teams able to string multiple phases together as a team and then score which is where we want to be, but when you’ve got a guy like Mat or Dan who can get the ball on his own line and then run the length of the pitch and score, we can’t undervalue that because teams worry about them and that creates space for others.”
Looking back on this year’s World Series, England have lost semi-finals in South Africa, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Japan, along with the final in Glasgow last weekend. Those near misses one would expect would have dented England’s confidence, but Vickerman is confident that his side are not far off reversing those results and challenging for the World Series title.
“Every tournament you learn lessons and you have to move on. Getting to the London leg and knowing exactly what our squad will be for next year is a position we’ve never been in before. We’ve still obviously got unfinished business for this season, but it’s also great to know that all the boys who have been involved in all our positive moments this year will definitely be around next year.”
“I don’t believe we’re that far off. We look at New Zealand and they way they never make mistakes and that’s where we need to be. Once you get to that level of consistency – making very few errors – then you’re going to do well.”
With a record crowd in attendance at Twickenham this weekend, there is no question that Sevens is rapidly expanding. The “Sevens Bug” is a contagious beast, hence the number of fans returning this year for the 70s Disco spectacle. Its uniqueness and the bonds made between team-mates in Vickerman’s eyes make it even more special. “As a sport it’s a completely unique concept. The way you’re always travelling around the world with the same group of people 24/7 – playing with each other, socialising with each other – is a completely unique concept. That brings you challenges as a captain and it’s about adapting to that.”
As attention turns after this summer towards the Olympics in 2016 where Sevens will be involved for the first time, the game has never been in better health.
by Ben Coles