This weekend sees the return of the fast and furious HSBC London Sevens tournament to the home of the England team at Twickenham Stadium. The stage is set for a titanic clash between the teams, with the USA and Fiji continuing their battle to secure the world title. RSNG caught up with England’s captain Tom Mitchell to find out how the players prepare for this contest of speed and strength.
It’s a testament to their commitment that to build the speed for those ‘whole length of the pitch’ breakaway tries, the team runs a whole twelve lengths of the pitch, as fast as they can. And their toughest training sessions are done in what’s called the ‘death zone’…
RSNG The Red Bulletin magazine called Rugby Sevens the world’s toughest sport. Why are its demands so intense?
TOM MITCHELL, ATHLETE ‘The more obvious part of the game is the physical aspect, and this is the part that people get to see. It’s a demanding fourteen minutes of constant running and constant action, which are all performed at the highest intensity, more so than you get in most other sports. In some ways I think it’s the toughest sport mentally as well. You have to have the ability to perform at the highest level, multiple times over the course of a weekend and throughout the year.’
‘The speed of the game has gone up massively with stronger, quicker, more powerful guys playing it’
RSNG Has the game upped in intensity over the past few years as players get stronger, but at the same time faster (as in rugby union?)
TM ‘The intensity of the game has stepped up remarkably year on year since I’ve been involved. I think it’s quite obvious when you’re both playing and watching, that the speed of the game has gone up massively, and the amount that the ball is in play is making it a more physically demanding game. You’re also getting stronger, quicker, more powerful guys playing it.’
RSNG Describe an average training week in terms of strength and conditioning? Is there a ‘King’ workout that has an amazing training effect?
TM ‘Our general training week will work across the five days of a normal week. An average training day will consist of a morning session of rugby, so we’ll be out on the field doing technical or tactical rugby work, and at least two sessions out of four in a week will be high intensity, replicating a game environment.’
‘One of these will be in the ‘death zone’ which has more high-speed features, lots of running, really high intensity, high heart rate up around 180/ 190bpm; and then the other is our main contact session – or our ‘safari sessions’ as we call them – which is our full contact, seven-on-seven match scenario.’
‘Then, the other half of the day, after the rugby, will be strength and conditioning focused, so it will be in the gym doing strength and power work; lots of high intensity lifts and moving weight at high speed, especially at this time in the season, and really looking to generate that power in the body.’
‘Then we also have a sprint session during the week, which focuses on getting up our speed and conditioning the body for the high speeds that are required during the games.’
RSNG What has sevens taught you about leadership?
TM ‘I would say that one of the key things it’s taught me is about the importance of the individuals; so how individual needs make up the team, and how best to meet those needs with all the challenges that go on. Especially in Sevens, you’re faced with so many different scenarios; being in different countries, in different environments. Being adaptable, being able to deliver on the move with all those unknowns presented to you is the challenge of leadership.’
RSNG There’s a lot of space in sevens – how do you develop the skills and fitness to cover it?
TM ‘What I would say first on the space is that it’s about seeing where the space is, a lot of the time, and then using that space to your advantage. In terms of physically being able to cover it, we do a lot of running in training and to build up our running loads, we test those with the 1,200m running test, which is basically 1,200m – or 12 lengths of the pitch – as quickly as you can, and also with the Yo-Yo test.’
‘These are our two main markers, so if we know if we’re hitting those, then we’ll be able to keep up with the intensity of the game and with the space that’s out there.’
‘You’re defending a much bigger space against very good attackers, with very good feet, so that’s the challenge’
RSNG What’s the toughest thing about defending in sevens?
TM ‘I guess the toughest thing about defending in sevens, particularly when compared with the 15-a-side game, is that you can feel very isolated. You’re often defending a much bigger space against guys who generally are very good attackers, have very good feet and are also very quick, so that’s the challenge.’
‘You’re also very exposed a lot of the time, or at least it feels like that, and you have to manage a lot of space, so it really means that you have to be very switched on in terms of what you’re showing to the attacker, in terms of your shoulders, your hips, the direction that you’re moving in relation to the defender and all those sorts of things.’
RSNG Who will be the dangerous teams and players to watch this weekend?
TM ‘I guess you’ve got to go straight to the top of the pile for who are the on-form teams at the moment. The two teams probably fighting it out for the World Series this year are USA and Fiji, who’ve got only three points separating them.’
‘The USA have got a very structured team but with pace in Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, who are their two really quick guys; and then Fiji have got that unpredictability and that immense ability to attack from anywhere, and to break a team down with their kind of chaotic, very natural style of playing.’
RSNG Which match do you think will be toughest for England?
TM ‘It’s very difficult to say. There are three very different teams (Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand), and three very different challenges. I guess New Zealand with the pedigree and sitting third in the table, in some ways, will present a big challenge, but certainly it’s a group where we have to be very switched on to the different threats that each opposition pose.’
‘Obviously we haven’t come up against Ireland yet, because this is their first appearance in the World Series, so they’ll be fresh from their qualification in Hong Kong and excited to deliver off the back of that, so they’ll certainly be a bit of a hidden threat too.’
RSNG What has been your best moment in an England shirt?
TM ‘I guess I’d probably go back to my first tournament win with England, which was in Tokyo in 2015. That was just a brilliant feeling of the culmination of a lot of hard work up to that point, along with the gratification of getting my first tournament win in an England shirt, which was pretty amazing.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Tom Mitchell score a storming try for England at the Paris Sevens.
The HSBC London Sevens comes to Twickenham Stadium on the 25-26 May 2019. For more information and to book tickets, visit England Rugby
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