Hong Kong Sevens

England wake up to value of Sevens circuit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 12:00am

England will play an increased role in the World Sevens Series next season.

Budge Rogers, who in July will take over the presidency of the English Rugby Football Union, said England would take part in more tournaments in the second year of the Series and that the RFU also hoped to host one of the legs.

'There will be greater participation from England in the World Sevens Series next time because we realise the game offers much to 15-a-side,' said Rogers, who is manager of the England team at the Silver Sevens.

'We also hope to host one of the legs at Twickenham. The signs are we will get it.

'In fact, we thought we would be given the leg which went to Paris this time,' Rogers said yesterday.

The Credit Suisse First Boston Hong Kong Sevens, which kicks off tomorrow (5pm) at the Hong Kong Stadium, will be the arena for England's debut at the inaugural World Sevens Series, which is run by the International Rugby Board.

Although the RFU has taken a cool approach to the abbreviated version of the game in the past, there have been signs of a thaw from the upper echelons.

England coach Clive Woodward, who is a great fan of sevens, especially the Hong Kong's event, said recently: 'We've got to get involved in this circuit because it's a great grooming ground. Look at where the likes of Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen first emerged . . . the Hong Kong Sevens.' Woodward added: 'I don't want to send an unrepresentative side, one that will get wiped out by those countries more in tune with sevens.' While the squad in Hong Kong boasts players from clubs in the English Premiership, it will take an optimist to hope they can avoid a wipe-out of the sorts Woodward was talking about.

'We are still trying to get out of 15s mode and switch to sevens,' admitted England captain Andy Gomarsall yesterday. 'The other teams have got a head start on us.' Bedford scrumhalf Gomarsall, who came on briefly against Italy in the Six Nations last weekend, says while the squad has loads of talent it will be a tough task to get them working as a unit.

'It has been very difficult getting a side together because of the commitments back home.

'The clubs have only released one player each and this cuts down the options a bit. But if there is any place to learn about sevens, then Hong Kong is it,' Gomarsall said after a training run at Happy Valley yesterday.

Rogers said: 'This has been the first time the team have trained together.' Not very inspiring stuff for the England fans, who are praying their team will be able to break the Southern Hemisphere stranglehold on the Hong Kong Sevens.

England's first task will be to overcome the tough Samoans in their preliminary pool D match and qualify for the Cup competition.

'This England team have been picked for their skills and pace. But in truth, it will be asking a bit too much from them to win the Cup. I would be over the moon if we could do that,' Rogers said.

'But I will guarantee you one thing, we will get better as we go along.' England's first game is against the Arabian Gulf tomorrow at 8pm. They then meet Sri Lanka in a high noon confrontation on Saturday before facing Samoa at dusk.

Rogers will be hoping that by then, his inexperienced sevens squad will have learned enough to pull off an upset.

ENGLAND Andy Gomarsall (Bedford), Pat Sanderson (Harlequins), Rob Gallagher (London Irish), Nigel Simpson (Bath), Mike Friday (Wasps), Steve Hanley (Sale), Joe Worsley (Wasps), Paul Gustard (Leicester), James Noon (Newcastle), Ian Vass (Northampton), Kirk King (Bath), Adam Vander (Bristol).