HSBC, the official sponsors of the World Sevens Series, have released a series of videos looking at the off-field entertainment that they provide for travelling squads. These include a helicoptor ride, as seen above, and learning to surf on the Gold Coast, and we will most probably feature a third video as the Series progresses. In the meantime, we caught up with Russell Earnshaw, the assistant coach to the England Sevens squad, to ask about off and on-field management.
The World Cup, where the greatest teams on the planet go toe-to-toe, is the pinnacle of modern rugby. However, if you want to look beyond the traditional powerhouses, rugby sevens is the arena in which new rugby nations emerge. England Sevens coach Russell Earnshaw says up-and-coming countries push the squad to continue improving:
“There are so many good nations coming through – the game is huge in Russia now, because the Olympics has given it status, and it is now on the school curriculum over there. In Europe, Spain and Portugal have full-time programmes with the Olympic cycle approaching and, having hit a World Series final in Adelaide, the USA should go from strength to strength. It’s incredibly competitive – South Africa won the world series in 2008/9 and then they were 6th the following season.”
With smaller nations pushing on and those at the top always striving to improve, the England team are hoping a holistic approach will give them an edge. They use extensive GPS data to map performance in training and games and have a number of specialist coaches, drawn from the national academy and England set-ups. “All your skills are under a microscope – your passing, tackling, breakdown work, your first phase work as a forward. Everything matters.”
The use of technology doesn’t end at performance statistics. Testosterone and cortisol testing helps to inform training schedules and the players are even profiled on their sleep patterns to, amongst other things, help with choosing room mates. Earnshaw says that, with so much time spent in hotels and airports, off-field care is also vital.
“Last year we were only four weeks of travel away from being tax exiles. We have good routines, especially on match days. We map out our days to cope with the travel and jet lag, using a mixture of science and anecdotal experience. We have a masseur who has been on four British Lions tours, so his experience really helps us with that side of things.”
There is also the chance for relaxing away from the pitch, with the lifestyle a major attraction for the squad. The players are given time off and are trusted to behave appropriately when they let off steam. Earnshaw claims not to have encountered any problems so far, but he does admit that the coaches have “learnt from some mistakes.”
As coverage of depression in sport and the difficulties of touring increases, with Jason Robinson the latest player to discuss his emotional struggle as a player, the ability to get away from the intense atmosphere of the match is ever more important. Amongst other things, the England squad have enjoyed a trip around Wellington on Harley Davidsons, a backstage visit to Cirque du Soleil and off-roading in the Dubai desert, and HSBC is providing opportunities for all the squads, as seen in the video above.
On the issue of the link between sevens and the fifteen-a-side game, Earnshaw is a mix of passion and frustration. He is insistent that sevens can develop players for Test rugby, reeling off the notable alumni – Croft, Varndell, Youngs, Foden, Care, Banahan. “Take James O’Connor or Ben Youngs. At 17, they were put in front of 40 000 people and asked to make split-second decisions under huge pressure. That’s where they’ll be in international games. It can only help.”
He yearns for a structure similar to that in New Zealand, where players such as Zac Guildford or Israel Dagg are honed in the Sevens World Series, but won’t be drawn on exactly what has prevented this being achieved. He does, however, think that Stuart Lancaster’s appointment is a significant opportunity for greater cohesion between the two forms of the game. “Stuart has been on two or three trips with us, so that might help. We’ll have to wait and see.” If more joined-up thinking results in an England team like the current New Zealand squad, there will be few dissenters.