Walker 'key to breaking' HK Sevens Cup famine
England under-20 centre Charlie Walker will debut at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens and join the massive Isoa Damudamu in the backline, as the sentimental favourites look at ways to break a five-year Cup drought later this month.
Walker is one of two new players drafted in a 13-man squad for the Hong Kong and Japan legs of the HSBC Sevens World Series by coach Ben Ryan - the other being half back Sam Edgerley, who will take over from Damudamu, who returns to duty in the British Army after the Hong Kong leg.
But Ryan will be hoping Damudamu can carry England to a fifth Cup victory in Hong Kong, their 'home away from home' and boost their hopes in the series. England are in fourth place in the standings on 74 points, 18 behind leaders New Zealand, and Ryan will be aware how crucial winning the Hong Kong tournament will be to his side's chances of being crowned series champions for the first time.
'The margins between the sides at this level are very small, but we have come up short a couple of times,' said Ryan. 'We haven't spent the last month changing anything, but we have been working harder than ever at this phase of the season and making sure everyone is doing everything they can at the highest standard possible.'
Captain Greg Barden leads a settled squad, which includes nine of England's contracted sevens players. The squad has been working hard to close the gap on New Zealand, Fiji and South Africa, having lost by a single score in the knockout stages in both Wellington and Las Vegas, the last two legs.
'The whole squad are in superb shape physically and we are really focused on putting things right, starting in Hong Kong, which is a home away from home for us. We all want to improve on last year's finals appearance and we know we will get fantastic support from our fans in the Hong Kong Stadium,' Ryan said.
England lost to New Zealand 29-17 in the Cup final last year.
England began the season on a high winning the Dubai Sevens and Ryan hopes the mix of experience - in the form of Damudamu, James Rodwell, Chris Cracknell, Mathew Turner and Dan Norton - and youth in Walker, will be a potent cocktail for the opposition to face.
Walker made his senior debut for Harlequins last September and has appeared in all three Under-20 Six Nations games so far this season, scoring three tries. Edgerley, a former England under-18 wing who has moved to scrumhalf, has trained with the national squad all season.
'I have tracked Charlie's progress for the last few years and I'm sure he will be a real asset to us for the next two tournaments,' Ryan said. 'He will fly out to link up with the squad immediately after the Under 20s finish their Six Nations programme against Ireland.'
England are in pool A with Samoa, Argentina and Kenya in the preliminary round of the March 23-25 tournament.