Former England Sevens star Rob Vickerman looks ahead to the HSBC London sevens this weekend, the finale of the HSBC World Rugby sevens series.
Emptying the tank
Twickenham certainly possesses an aura and creates many memories for people all over the world, and that is no different for the players about to embark in the HSBC London Sevens.
It is always an honour to play at the famed ‘Home of England Rugby,’ and the fact it is the last event on the series makes it even more special. Teams all know that this is their last effort after an emotive, physical and absorbing season, which means they will seek to completely throw themselves in to the rugby – and enjoy every moment on the sacred turf and around the ground. For one team it will also mean the end of their time on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, so expect to see a degree of devastation as well as elation come Sunday evening.
Playing at ‘home’ is a strange part of the World Series, as all other professional rugby players in England have their roots stemmed into community, with every other game played at a home venue, including local stakeholders and supporters.
At Twickenham, the feelings of running out in front of tens of thousands of supporters, friends and family – down the same tunnel that the world’s best players have graced, is something that is held very closely to the home nation.
They will have accrued around 100,000 miles travelling all over the planet but only in this one tournament is there chance to play in a community they can consider their own. England simply thrive playing in London, emphasised by their tag line of “Make England Proud” as they start a game and at half time.
Time to replicate ‘09
The stadium was steadily building to levels of around 30,000 for the final in 2009 when Dan Norton scorched around the outside of the New Zealand defence to score a wonder-try (his first one), enabling Micky Young to dance over the line in extra time.
To win at Twickenham remains a real career highlight of mine, in a team that was very close knit and full of great characters.
One of these characters was Ben Ryan, who at the time of the full time whistle in the final jumped with such enthusiasm and excitement, he pulled his calf, such was his athletic prowess. We all celebrated around him lying on the floor.
Class of 16/17
I believe a stronger camaraderie is seen in the current batch of England players now than it was then, which places much hope in their ability to finish the season on a real high and take second place on the overall Series for the first time since 2006.
The fear is that injuries may well hinder the team, but as with Norton back in 2009, offering the younger players a chance to show their worth on an iconic stage is something that can break boundaries, provide exceptional performances and raise eyebrows.
Overall, the team can reflect on a great season, beating South Africa more than any team, who are the most dominant force seen since the opening few Series. England’s very impressive victories in Cape Town and Vancouver will be remembered fondly, but sadly, England only managed joint seventh following both those victories in Wellington and Hong Kong respectively, which has shown a degree of inconsistency and impacted on their race to catch the South Africans, but may well be enough to hold off the Fijians.
South African Swansong
To have won the HSBC World Series in the HSBC Paris 7’s quarter-finals preceding the final event is an astonishing achievement.
The series has seen an array of teams able to beat each other, so the times South Africa have been pushed to the wire, scraping through by one or two points in an absorbing quarter and semi finals sets their standard.
Their aura is such as the Premiership’s superstar Saracens - placing much emphasis on their culture, demeanor and spirit that can count for so much on a sevens pitch.
When your lungs are burning, your legs are screaming and the mind is shouting at you to simply stop – it is often the teams with a special bond that get through those moments and do it for a collective reason that outweighs the individual pain.