England Sevens try wizard Dan Norton heads to the inaugural World Tens Series in Bermuda later this month in a career which has seen him scale the heights.
Reputation counted for nothing in August when, along with 17 other England men, Norton was made redundant by the RFU in a savage cost-cutting move that went right to the heart of the problems faced by the union in the wake of Covid.
Despite securing a short-term contract at London Irish – a deal which has now expired – Norton admits he still feels a deep sense of loss over the termination of a ten-year Sevens career that saw him score over 350 World Series tries.
An Olympics silver medallist with Team GB in 2016, Norton told The Rugby Paper: “It was a tough pill to swallow. Looking at the bigger picture, it made sense because if you have a business and there’s going to be no work for six to eight months you’ve got to find a way to decrease your workforce, but at the same time it still hurts.
“Other sides are still training and aiming to play rugby, whereas we’ve kind of been cast aside. It feels like we’ve just been cut out without any options and while you still hope there’ll be an Olympics next year – and that’s the mindset among many of the boys – in the meantime we’ve still got mortgages to pay and families and kids to think about.
“When we were initially given the news, it rocked us massively. My wife and I have two young kids, both under five, and it was a major knock-back. The panic sets in straight away – how are you going to pay for the house and put food on the table? – but that’s the way professional sport is, it can be ruthless and to cut 18 guys was a big shock.”
Norton adds: “We didn’t see it coming, certainly not to that extent. I’m fortunate to have been involved in the Sevens for ten years-plus, but at the same time I’m only 32 and I’d like to continue doing what I enjoy and love, so that’s what I aim to do.
“In light of the pandemic I was fortunate to get an opportunity with London Irish and that worked out nicely. I’d have liked a bit more of an opportunity to show what I could do because I only played twice, but it did give me the chance to stay fit and get back into shape to play 15-a-side rugby and I’d love to find another club to continue.”
At this stage, Norton is ruling nothing out. He explained: “Next thing on the radar is the Bermuda Tens, which is a pretty exciting prospect moving forward, but when I come back in November I’ll see if there are any opportunities here or over in France.
“Ideally, I’d love the opportunity to play back in the Premiership – somewhere that works for me and my family.
“I haven’t played too much 15s since my Gloucester and Bristol days, but the exposure I’ve had in Sevens has put me in a good position and by the time my two months finished at Irish, I felt I was getting back up to speed.
“There are things in 15s that are polar opposites of what you do in Sevens – tactical stuff around back-field cover and what are actually wins in attack and defence – but I enjoyed being back in that professional 15s environment and feel I have a lot to offer.
“I’d relish the chance to find a top-flight club that allows me to show my skill-set.”
First comes the Bermuda World Series Tens, spread over three weekends from October 24 to November 7, where Norton will represent the London Royals along with former England Sevens colleagues Tom Mitchell, Tom Bowen, Alex Davis and Richard de Carpentier, with ex-London Irish men Max Northcote-Green and Ross Neal also now on board.
Norton added: “It’s an exciting prospect, especially with the plans for a longer World Tens Series next year. The great thing about Tens is it’s a hybrid between Sevens and 15s and it’s an exciting format aimed at bringing new fans to the game.”