What's ailing England Rugby Sevens and where's the medicine

What's ailing England Rugby Sevens and where's the medicine

England Sevens arrive home today licking their wounds from a brutally tough two weeks on the HSBC World Sevens Series. They arrived in Dubai without regulars Lewis-Pratt, Cracknell and Mat Turner and they have left Port Elizabeth with further serious injuries to Tom Mitchell following Ollie Phillips hamstring tweak meaning that he missed out making a comeback in Dubai, Englands injury list in catastrophic and has obviously left them reeling like it would any other team. I spoke last week that any World Series team that loses the experience and quality of players like Mitchell, Cracknell and Turner would not be able to hold their position at the top of the series. There in fact have been further examples so far this season with South Africa imploding without Cecil Afrika being compounded by injuries to his replacement Branco Du Preez and captain Kyle Brown in Dubai. Likewise Kenya, the Shujaa had made semi-finals in Gold Coast and Dubai but following the departure of four key players from the squad for reasons I discussed in latest Power Rankings article the Kenyan side dropped to a Bowl Semi-Final loss and finishing position of 11/12th which is a dramatic fall.

England Sevens arrive home today licking their wounds from a brutally tough two weeks on the HSBC World Sevens Series. They arrived in Dubai without regulars Lewis-Pratt, Cracknell and Mat Turner and they have left Port Elizabeth with further serious injuries to Tom Mitchell following Ollie Phillips hamstring tweak meaning that he missed out making a comeback in Dubai, Englands injury list in catastrophic and has obviously left them reeling like it would any other team.

I spoke last week that any World Series team that loses the experience and quality of players like Mitchell, Cracknell and Turner would not be able to hold their position at the top of the series. There in fact have been further examples so far this season with South Africa imploding without Cecil Afrika being compounded by injuries to his replacement Branco Du Preez and captain Kyle Brown in Dubai. Likewise Kenya, the Shujaa had made semi-finals in Gold Coast and Dubai but following the departure of four key players from the squad for reasons I discussed in latest Power Rankings article the Kenyan side dropped to a Bowl Semi-Final loss and finishing position of 11/12th which is a dramatic fall.

The question for England now is that they have 6/7 weeks until the Hertz Wellington Sevens to fix the problem. Coach Ben Ryan has almost certainly never been in this position before, certainly not during his time with England 7s. He is about to go through a period where I am sure he will be considering his options late at night, reliving some of the recent issues in his mind at times when he would rather not and more importantly earn his salary like never before. It's not commitment that has been questioned though, the issues go a little deeper than just application.

England 7s placed themselves on a pedestal at the beginning of the season. From the minute the press descended on Teddington before the Gold Coast Sevens, England placed themselves in a position to be shot at by all and sundry in the rugby world. Players were discussing 'World Player of the Year' and it had the feeling of American Football sides the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets of past seasons. Players were looking past the work that needed to be done and more at the results they anticipated.

This was not the case for coach Ryan, he said from the outset that England were improved but he was sure that the other nations had improved as well, he just did not know how much.

So the problem now needing to be solved is how do England make the improvement over the next 6 weeks that South Africa made in 6 days. South Africa were fortunate enough to bring back Cecil Afrika and rumour has it Mat Turner who is arguably England's most complete player is aiming to be back for the Wellington Sevens from his broken ankle which will make a huge difference. The question then comes about the identity of the England 7s program. If the players that replaced the injured ones did not affect the way England played then it would be easier to see what is trying to be achieved.

This past weekend, when England kicked for Rodwell from the restart, ball was retained brilliantly by the big man but there is a feeling that though great offensively for England, he perhaps is not the best defender in the side. England had kicked more ball away than anyone else in the World Series but this changed again at the weekend with ball being kept in hand. New Zealand seemed to have the Norton question answered though by being that little softer and standing off him in defense, giving him more room to attack them from deep but less width, basically not commiting to the speedster in contact. England appeared to not have an answer to the top sides physicality at the breakdown and losses to South Africa in Dubai and New Zealand/Samoa/Fiji in Port Elizabeth confirm this. The tiki-taka approach that had been discussed widely in the past with the short passes and the lack of contact has not been obvious, so how are England 7s trying to play?

I am trying to establish what is the identity of England 7s. When other nations lose players there has not been a dramatic change in the way they play and with 19 players training together full-time it would be thought that there would be a more seamless transition in the way they play. A drop in quality is understandable, every team has starters and squad players for a reason but changes in style and play is more interesting.

Over the next 6 weeks I expect Ben Ryan to come up with something that whichever group of players he has fit works for them. A style of play that is more than competitive for the group stages in Wellington and one that can front up on Day Two when it gets tough. If the players are not there for that to happen, then I expect him to go out and find ones that are. I expect him to take a close look at his forwards as at the moment the loss of Cracknell is having a huge affect on phyiscality and though I have the upmost respect for Powell, Vickerman and Brightwell they are missing something up front.

I expect the coach to fix it because I have watched from afar with this England program as he has put the tools in place for England 7s to become a World Class side and no one said that it would be easy but when you consider that New Zealand have not once fallen into the Bowl since the series inception in 1999 that is the standard that needs to be set. Not isolated tournament victories and memorable matches but consistency. Wales, Argentina and France have shown how far you can go without stars like Dan Norton on the wing with balanced play and top level defense through keeping it simple.

If I am writing a similar article after Las Vegas in February then I am sure it will take a different tone, we will be in World Cup year but at this stage I am confident that Ryan and his management will fix the riddle that is England 7s with or without the injured players because that's what they are paid to do, it's what they spend the endless hours analysing and it's why they are consider some of the best in the world. Now is the time to be counted so over to you England 7s find your indentity and the victories will follow