Sevens lessons for makeshift England

Mike Wilson in Hong Kong says short game needs a long-term plan
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It was carnival time as the Hong Kong Sevens celebrated its silver jubilee in the sun in front of a capacity crowd at the Hong Kong stadium yesterday. On the pitch, the final qualifying pool matches determined the line-up for today's knockout stages of the world's premier sevens tournament.

It was carnival time as the Hong Kong Sevens celebrated its silver jubilee in the sun in front of a capacity crowd at the Hong Kong stadium yesterday. On the pitch, the final qualifying pool matches determined the line-up for today's knockout stages of the world's premier sevens tournament.

This year, the Hong Kong showpiece matters more than ever. It has become part of the new International Rugby Board World Sevens Series, leg eight of 10 of an inaugural globetrotting event which has ranged from northern hemisphere to south since December and concludes in Paris at the end of May.

It is this World Series which has persuaded England to compete in the Hong Kong event for the first time. The party, captained by Bedford's Andy Gomarsall, is being managed by the president-elect of the Rugby Football Union, the former international Budge Rogers.

Rogers says he sees sevens as a "huge development platform for the senior squad, and Clive [Woodward, the full England coach] is fully behind our participation, not only here in Hong Kong but in the full IRB series in the future".

Woodward himself is a keen advocate of the sevens game for development purposes. "There's no expectation on these guys in Hong Kong, but it can only help their careers by taking part," he said.

However, the selection policy gives the impression that it was based on pragmatism rather more than playing ability. Each of the Premiership clubs was asked to nominate a player for the squad. In an attempt to spread the load of even greater demands on the clubs, the RFU are clearly anxious not to see the demands of sevens drive a wedge further between the needs of domestic and international rugby.

On the field, an England outfit including full internationalists Gomarsall, Joe Worsley and Pat Sanderson have looked statuesque and ponderous, but they at least qualified for the knockout phase. They now play South Africa for a place in the semi-finals.

Seven-a-side rugby at present looks as alien to this makeshift England side - England won the inaugural World Sevens at Murrayfield in 1993 - as it comes naturally to the gifted Fijians, but if coach Adrian Thompson's charges are a professional outfit, they will quickly absorb many lessons which have been clear to see.

Not the least of those is the need to develop a specialist sevens unit with separate aims and objectives, and the clearest lesson of all is the need to play, play and play again in order to develop strategies and cohesion. The gulf, forexample, between the approaches of Canada and Argentina and Six Nations outfits such as Scotland and Ireland has been stark. Both the Celtic sides have been thoroughly outclassed, the Scots having been humiliated by hosts Hong Kong on the opening night, the Irish never competing against either the Argentinians or the Canadians in a highly competitive Pool F.

Perhaps they both will look at the Welsh decision, which has been criticised at home and in Hong Kong, not to compete until structures are in place to do so competitively, for neither outfit has gained anything from their exposure to the heat of World Sevens 2000 style,coaches and players feeling as exposed as any tradesman sent out to do a job of work without the correct tools and training.

By far the most improved team of the tournament are hosts Hong Kong, who, in addition to beating Scotland on Friday on their own terms, are on the crest of a wave of confidence having qualified last weekend for next year's sevens World Cup.

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