Ollie Phillips has his own mountain to climb this year and believes England must find consistency if they are to conquer theirs and join the usual Sevens Series suspects of South Africa, Fiji and New Zealand in the title hunt.
USA stand atop the summit after the opening two rounds in Dubai and Cape Town, with England eight points behind in fourth. And former England captain Phillips argues Simon Amor’s side looked great value in Dubai only to fall agonisingly short to a New Zealand team who look to be on their way up.
The next leg in Hamilton kicks off on January 26 and Phillips wants to see England challenging for the title again.
“It’s not where England want to be, they want to be up there winning it,” the 36-year-old told The Rugby Paper. “New Zealand look a strong side this year, they’ll always be up there with Fiji and South Africa. But in Dubai England played well, before losing to New Zealand in the semis, 7-5.
“Those are the sort of games that England narrowly lose and now the expectation from their side should be that they should be narrowly winning.”
Head coach Amor can call on on Tom Mitchell, Phil Burgess and Dan Norton to help deliver a maiden Sevens Series world title for England, but Phillips feels their shot at achieving that faces a threat from a USA team vying to do the same.
“They are a side with a lot of similarities to England,” said the ex-Gloucester and Stade Francais wing, who as captain led England to three World Series Cup victories. “They’ve got a lot of experience in their squad, a talented squad capable of winning tournaments.
“Just like England they have to build that consistency. They have two of the fastest men in the game in Perry Baker and Carlin Isles. Danny Barrett is arguably the best ball-carrier in the game and Madison Hughes is a fantastic playmaker in the middle. They have all the attributes to be great. It is all to do with mindset.”
Phillips, voted World Rugby Sevens player of the year in 2009, has just returned from Nepal where a tour of the Webb Ellis trophy to promote interest in RWC2019 allowed him to view the terrain he will be tackling in a three-week trek come April.
As part of the Wooden Spoon’s LMAX Everest Rugby Challenge, Phillips will be joined by TRP columnist Shane Williams, Andy Gomersall and Tamara Taylor in an attempt to set two world records on Everest and help raise over £200,000 for the children’s charity.
Together with a group of 30 people, the adventure takes Phillips to the thin air of the Himalayas where the objective is to play two games of rugby at a lung-sapping altitude of 6,500 metres on Everest’s north face.
“It’s always been a huge ambition of mine to go to Everest. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience and challenge” he added. “Having been in Nepal, seeing the mountain and comparing it with the picture in my head, feeling the altitude and seeing the terrain, everything about it has been an extra factor behind working with an awesome charity like Wooden Spoon.”
Phillips was also part of expedition which in 2015 broke the Guinness World Record for the most northerly played game of rugby at the north magnetic pole, raising more than £200,000 for Wooden Spoon.
Phillips added: “For me it is part of a legacy project moving on from the Arctic. If we achieve all the targets that we’ve set for this, then accumulatively across the two challenges we will have raised between £500,000-£600,000.
“Logistically what a nightmare! You can imagine the task; sorting visas, the physical challenge of people playing rugby at 6,500m – it’s not really where you’re meant to be playing rugby.
“But Wooden Spoon have been bold enough to take it all on and they have my huge admiration and respect. They have managed to get 30 people together who share their vision.”
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