Gollings to lead England 7s challenge
September 15, 2010
Gollings is the highest points scorer in IRB Sevens Series history © Getty Images
Veteran Ben Gollings will lead England's bid for Rugby Sevens gold at next month's Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
The 30-year-old, who made his IRB Sevens Series debut back in 2000, will be making his third appearance at the Games after appearing in Manchester in 2002 and winning a silver medal in Melbourne four years later.
Gollings, who has racked up a world-leading 2,374 points in the shortened version of the game in the last ten years, will captain a 12-man group named by head coach Ben Ryan. Seven players - Gollings, Greg Barden, Kevin Barrett, Chris Cracknell, Isoa Damudamu, Dan Norton and James Rodwell - were in the side that clinched the Wellington and London Sevens titles in 2009 - England's last victories on the IRB Sevens Series.
England face Namibia, Uganda and an eagerly anticipated game against Australia on the first day of the 16-team tournament that will be staged on October 11-12 at Delhi University.
"I'm pleased with the squad and we're looking forward to what should be a hotly contested Commonwealth Games Rugby Sevens in Delhi," commented Ryan. "There will big guns like New Zealand, who have won three gold medals since Rugby Sevens was introduced to the Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, Samoa, who won the last World Series, and Australia will also be strong, so we're certainly not going to be the favourites.
"But we're fit and well prepared, and we have a hungry squad with a good blend of youth and experience who are desperate to wear the England shirt and will give their all to succeed in Delhi. The spirit is good, the players have fought for their places and they've put in lots of hard work. Those qualities will be our strengths and now it comes down to putting together a string of performances to get us on the medal podium."
Ryan hoped last month's Middlesex Sevens would provide the team with a crucial warm-up for Delhi but their disappointing quarter-final exit left them short of game time. Looking to make up the shortfall, England played in a low-key tournament in Hertfordshire that caught unsuspecting opponents by surprise.
"We didn't get the time on the pitch that we wanted from the Middlesex Sevens," said Ryan. "It was obvious we needed more so we entered the Harpenden pub sevens and played seven games there. We romped through it and that gave us some good game time. It was a nice experience and the boys enjoyed it.
"The reaction to us was positive. Once the other teams had run off their hangover from the night before, they gave us some decent opposition. We played the Marauders and Samurai and put 40 points on both, but it was good to practice different things and it enabled us to develop relationships on the pitch."
Players such as Mathew Tait and Danny Care helped them win silver in Melbourne four years ago and while Ryan accepts England do not possess the same quality as 2002 or 2006, he still expects them to challenge for gold.
"My expectation is the same as any England coach and that's to win every game and win a gold medal," he said. "We don't go in as favourites as New Zealand have four All Blacks in their squad and have a very settled squad. Samoa are the best in the world at the moment and they have the same side.
"Those two teams are the favourites and we're behind them, but that's not to say we don't expect to do well and get on the podium. When you go down this list there are no obvious superstars when you compare it to the teams of 2006 and 2002. In Melbourne they sent home David Strettle and Ugo Monye because they hadn't made the squad and that was the depth they had. But the climate's changed and we've got 12 guys who will fight for the shirt and do everything they can."
Ryan sympathises with the reluctance of Aviva Premiership clubs to release their top players for sevens. "In 2006 there were regular Premiership players - guys like Mathew Tait, Tom Varndell and David Strettle," he said. "The Premiership is a different beast now and the sevens circuit has changed as there are more tournaments.
"Those players just aren't available to us now. If I was a director of rugby in the Premiership then I wouldn't want to lose one of my best players for four months at a time. So you look down at the next level, which is either sevens specialists or guys who are young enough to be able to be taken out of the 15 system for a period. The perceived calibre has dropped but I don't think that's going to harm us."
England Sevens squad for the Commonwelath Games: