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Tom Mitchell: Sevens deep in the desert

IMG_2188Of all the nine tournaments on the IRB series, the Dubai 7s is perhaps the one that best brings home the bizarre nature of our jobs. The swish hotel rooms and the bright lights of the city skyline give a taste of the life of luxury lived by many out here.

The taste of the high life began from our arrival at Heathrow airport last week as we had a warm welcome from our new sponsors Heathrow Express and had access to the executive lounge. We were also treated with an upgrade to Business Class on the flight out which was particularly welcomed by the bigger guys in our squad. For once they arrived without the stiffness and cramp of the normal flight.

The amount of travel can be exhausting but in a group of twelve guys there is usually something going on to keep you entertained. A highlight was definitely seeing the panicked looks on the faces of the airport security staff who pounced on Mike Ellery as he strolled through the x-ray scanner carrying a bottle of water. And we are supposed to be experienced travellers!

Despite being in an awe inspiring place, a long way from the single figure temperatures at home, we find it easy enough to stay grounded when running ourselves into delirium in our weekly CUF (Clarity Under Fatigue) session. You have to be a different sort of person to enjoy running approximately 2 kilometres at around 130-160 meters per minute with top speeds of 35kmph. All of this in thirty degree heat gets a real sweat on.

We have come a long way since the last tournament. The environment in training has been much more settled than before Gold Coast. The competition for places remains at the highest level and our coach has had a chance to stamp his influence on our squad to a greater extent. Simon Amor has been there and done it with England 7s and possesses a very good understanding of what life is like for a player on the World Series. He endows the players with the responsibility to switch on and switch off at the appropriate moments and his constant demand for the highest standard has certainly rubbed off on everyone. The squad is bound by a joint pursuit of the upmost quality and as a result we are expecting the best of ourselves this weekend.

Six long weeks since the last IRB tournament ensure that levels of excitement and desire are up to the maximum and superb support provides an added boost. It is certainly true that we have a healthy following out here. Even the hotel porter greeted one of our older statesmen with a personal touch: ‘Welcome back Mr Rodwell’. Perhaps Rodders has just been in the game too long.

Simon has been at the helm for a good few months now and has recently been joined by Damian McGrath, our newly appointed assistant coach. Fortunately, Damian is a highly qualified rugby coach with a wealth of expertise because otherwise I fear he would currently be struggling on the stand-up comedy circuit. Each explanation of a skill or technique is accompanied by an anecdote, sometimes suspiciously appropriate, sometimes drastically tenuous. I never thought I’d hear anyone relate tackle technique to a John Smith’s advert! (I’ll leave you to work that one out). We welcome him to his first tournament and we’re all looking forward to working with him going forward.

Our rest day yesterday was one of the best I have spent on any trip. We piled into 4×4 Land Cruisers and headed into the desert for an adrenaline-fuelled drive across the dunes. We hurtled up and down steep sand banks and at one stage the car carrying our management team dug in on one side and teetered on two wheels threatening to tip over. To everyone’s relief (I think!) all four wheels rested on the sand and we dug them out. In the middle of the desert we parked up at some tents and had a barbeque. Some boys took a ride on the resident camels and Jeff Williams learned first-hand why you shouldn’t walk around them barefoot.

As another helicopter flies by the hotel window, no doubt carrying a Sheik to the newest five star apartment, and the constant traffic runs along the highway as if it has no off switch, you cannot fail to be struck by this place. Out at the Sevens Stadium on Friday, however, the intrigue will be replaced by pure excitement. The combination of partying fans, the sliding scale of social and serious invitational tournaments and the IRB tournament makes for a festival atmosphere, one to be savoured and soaked up.

We have a couple of days now where the focus ramps up. Final preparations for the tournament are made and the nerves sporadically creep back into the day. The business end of our bizarre jobs is here.

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