One of the surprise packages on this year’s world series, Mat Turner is not a new face on the circuit, just a man in a new position. Following his switch to scrum-half earlier in this season in Dubai, Turner had an outstanding tournament as England won their only title so far in the 2012 World Series, also being named the tournament’s MVP.
“This is definitely my best year personally. Everybody has played with each other for so long that we all know our roles. Moving to scrum-half for me has really worked out well. It was a late call in Dubai but one that has really come off.”
England’s attitude towards Sevens has changed dramatically in the last two years. With players no longer shared between clubs, the squad can focus on enhancing the unique set of skills needed for the abbreviated game rather than trying to add the necessary bulk in the gym to play XVs. This new professionalism in Turner’s eyes has meant that in the past few years, England have come on leaps and bounds.
“To be honest two years ago we weren’t a real finals team. When we got to the semi-finals of tournaments we tended to think that was enough. Now we have 16 fully fit players who are always concentrating on 7s. Everyone this year is far more professional, because being on the new specific central contracts means you’re never switching your training from 7s to XVs, meaning you can focus on working on your speed and agility. You can try and find a middle ground between the two games, but it never really works.”
In fact, such is Turner’s love for the sport that looking ahead, a return to the original game where he plays on the wing for now is out of the question. “We get to fly around the world, chasing the sun, and as someone who started as winger you want to play in space. Personally I don’t think I’d ever play XVs again.”
After the next tournament in Japan is over Turner will be in the skies again, this time back to his native South Africa. Despite still spending time back where he grew up in Hout Bay, there has never been any motive for him to turn out for the Boks. “My Mum is British and I had an exchange at Millfield school so things just went from there. I made a choice to play for England and I’ve never looked back and considered playing for the Springboks. That’s the way my Dad taught me and he’s more than happy to see me playing for England.”
Focusing on this weekend in Hong Kong, Turner is desperate to pick up a first title in one of the world’s greatest arenas, along with pegging back New Zealand against whom England’s record this season reads as four losses out of five, the only victory coming in the final in Dubai. New Zealand were also the victors in last year’s Dubai tournament, defeating England in the final.
“Last year we should have won it. A few things went against us playing in the final, and our battles with them this year are the reason why we haven’t made so many finals in this series, apart from winning the tournament in Dubai.”
Victory would put England right back into the mix for the World Series title, in turn continuing to raise the profile of a sport that Turner feels with the Olympics coming up in 2016 is on the verge of greatness.
“I think Sevens is going to explode. There’s only one way it can go.”
by Ben Coles