Simon Amor believes England's Red Rose can bloom again in rugby sevens
New England sevens coach admits it will be a long hard slog back to the top, but his focus is having his talented players realise their potential
Simon Amor was captain the last time England won the Hong Kong Sevens back in 2006 - now as head coach, he insists the Red Rose can bloom again at Hong Kong Stadium, but warns it will be a long hard slog to the top.
Amor, 34, has taken over from Ben Ryan. The former scrum half helped his team to four Cup titles at the Sevens, long considered a home-away-from-home for England, but recently an unhappy hunting ground.
"It will be a long way for us to go, but England's target is obviously to win each and every tournament this season and Hong Kong is primary among them," Amor said at the launch of England's new team sponsor, Heathrow Express, this week.
England finished a disappointing sixth in the overall standings last season, which was again dominated by New Zealand. Even Kenya, a team which not many seasons ago would have struggled to stay in contention with the likes of England, finished above them.
But Amor points out that the game has moved on quite a bit since his playing days.
"The physicality of the game is much greater these days," he said. "That in essence is what it is all about now and today there are no more easy games with every match a challenge. With the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics, every country is placing more resources in the game and the result is plain to see, it being more competitive."
Lured from his position as director of rugby at London Scottish, Amor was named this month by the Rugby Football Union to replace Ryan, who in seven years of trying failed to win in Hong Kong, the biggest tournament in the HSBC Sevens World Series.
Will a man who tasted victory frequently - in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006 - be able to transfer that magic to today's bunch of players, all contracted to play full- time sevens for the country?
"There are not going to be any revolutionary changes, if at all it will be a process of evolution. Of course, as a new coach, I will want to put in place my ideas, but I take over from Ben Ryan who has done a lot of good work and I hope to continue that process," Amor said. But you can sense he is impatient to get the job done.
"I don't think you will see any huge changes at the first tournament this season - the Gold Coast Sevens next month - as I'm just about coming to grips with what is going on. I will need some time to get into the programme, have a look before starting to put in place my vision and ideas," Amor said.
One of Ryan's biggest achievements was convincing the RFU to put in place a sevens programme. Twenty players are contracted full time and it will be from this crop that Amor will draw his 12-strong team for the first leg of the World Series. "England have a talented squad and my focus is on helping the players realise their potential in the World Series, with next year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow being a key goal," Amor said.
The All Blacks Sevens have won every Commonwealth gold since it became a medal sport in 1998. "I have nothing but admiration for New Zealand and [coach] Sir Gordon Tietjens. The beauty of their system is that the pathway is so well oiled and works like a dream with new players slotting in seamlessly. This is something which I hope England can do as well," Amor said.
Amor is hopeful that a new and flexible style will bring kudos to England, especially in Hong Kong. "It's been a long time since we won in Hong Kong. Yes, it would be nice to do it again next March," he said.