The captains of the 16 nations competing in this weekend’s penultimate round of the World Rugby Sevens Series assembled on Wednesday with the iconic Kensington Palace as a backdrop.
USA currently sit at the table’s summit having got themselves on the podium in seven of the eight tournaments so far this campaign, and look to win the overall prize for the first time since its inception twenty years ago. They have three-time champions Fiji breathing down their neck and leading the chasing pack, just three points behind.
Meanwhile, in Pool C England face Ireland and Scotland before finishing with their toughest test, against third placed New Zealand.
The hosts will be led out at Twickenham by the experienced Phil Burgess, who takes over the captaincy in the absence of regular skipper Tom Mitchell. It will be Burgess’s 50th World Series appearance and with anticipation building ahead of the rugby festival due to descend on south-west London, he spoke to The Rugby Paper of his excitement to play in front of a home crowd for the sixth successive year.
He said: “It’s a massive bonus for us players. Knowing the crowd are there to support you and that friends and family are in there willing you to do well, its awesome. The noise and atmosphere is electric! We are well supported around the world but playing in an England shirt at Twickenham is special – it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Burgess has racked up much silverware during his illustrious career including silvers medals from the Rio Olympics, World Cup Sevens and Commonwealth Games, and is eager to make more memories in such prestigious tournaments.
He is determined to help guarantee England their spot at the Tokyo Olympics by securing a top four position at the end of World Series proceedings in Paris next month, rather than going through European qualification later on.
“I was very fortunate to be involved in the last Olympics and represent Great Britain, I’ve only got fond memories. Hopefully we put ourselves in a good position to qualify this summer, and we can then look forward to building next year.”
He went on to pay tribute to England’s most capped player, James Rodwell; the 34 year-old will hang up his boots after more than a decade of involvement in the game.
“James is a phenomenon. 69 consecutive tournaments is massive but when you know the game of sevens – the stress it puts on your body and how combative it is, to know he’s done that back-to-back 69 times is incredible,” said Burgess. He also praised Rodwell’s adaptation to the changing nature of sevens during his time wearing the Red Rose.
“The game has changed and developed over that 12 year period and James has done the same. He’s helped develop the youngsters so that they can stand in his footsteps and take over the mantle, and use his attention for detail which is so important on the world stage.”
These compliments were echoed by England coach Simon Amor, who mentioned his admiration for Rodwell’s consistency, commitment and passion for sevens.
Following their gold medal finish in Singapore last month, South Africa will be confident of closing the nine-point gap between themselves and New Zealand in third.
Siviwe Soyizwapi, said that despite winning in Singapore the squad still managed to highlight areas requiring improvement. It’s the small margins that make the difference at the elite level, and such scrutiny demonstrates how the Blitzbokke managed to lift the coveted prize two years running in 2017 and 2018.
The speedster then alluded to the mental fortitude among the squad that has made them so successful in recent years. “We are resilient and persist in maintaining high standards, allowing us to implement our processes effectively.”
Blitzbokke scrum-half Branco du Preez will make history on Saturday by appearing in his 70th World Series game, a total accumulated over nine years of service for South Africa.
“Branco is a guy you want to have as a teammate. He always gives 110% and that also motivates you to give the same,” Soyizwapi said.
“He is a great professional – 70 tournaments is incredible. It’s a huge milestone which not many have achieved before. What we stand for as a team is making better human beings, who then become better players. Branco is that guy.”
HSBC London Sevens is known for eccentric costumes and often overindulgence, but this weekend at HQ one should anticipate a scintillating spectacle on the pitch as the best athletes in the sport battle it out to meet their respective targets. Expect fireworks.
JAMIE JUBERT / Photo: Getty Images
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