Ollie Phillips: England are missing a trick by not blooding their best talents in sevens

Ollie Phillips
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Rieko Ioane (pictured) has starred at fifteens level after cutting his teeth at sevens (Source: Getty)

There was a time not too long ago when watching England play in the World Sevens Series, which returns to Twickenham this weekend, was a chance to see future stars of the 15-a-side game.

When I first joined and started playing, the England set-up utilised and leveraged the sevens as a feeder tool for developing some of the best young talent in the country to then go through into the larger fifteens club and international game.

Five years ago, most of our starting backs had all played sevens in some capacity. Ben Youngs, Danny Care, Ugo Monye, Matt Banahan, Christian Wade, Ben Foden — they’d all come through England sevens into the fifteens.

Now, that doesn’t seem to be happening at all. There’s no one doing that. There’s a couple who might — Wasps’ Marcus Watson, for example — but they’re a long way away from being on the England horizon.

In England it’s very segmented. You’re either in sevens or you’re in fifteens. It’s not a complementary segue whereas if you look at South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, tons of infrastructure is geared towards sevens.

Hong Kong Rugby Sevens - Day 1
A young Danny Care scores for England Sevens (Source: Getty)

Take New Zealand's two Ioane brothers, Rieko and Akira, or Henry Speight with Australia. All of these guys came through the sevens set-up and have gone through to flourish in the fifteens.

Sevens gives you the pretty exciting prospect of travelling around the world and exposure to the high-pressure environments of massive crowds with 50,000 to 60,000 people and intense games played at pace.

It exposes the core, basic elements of rugby. The accuracy of the pass has to be pinpoint otherwise you don’t score tries. Defensively, you have to be technically and positionally brilliant because if you miss a tackle it’s a try.

It’s amazing for your appreciation and understanding of space. When to take space and run forward, how you hold and when to shift it wide. And it’s great for decision making and accuracy around the breakdown. You can’t lose two or three players to a breakdown because if you do, you’re outnumbered. You have to be utterly ruthless and clinical.

That’s where the current England side are going wrong — their attacking ability to score points and their ability at the breakdown.

Other unions recognise that it’s really good for the development of their players, that they’re going to improve and return the investment tenfold further down the line. England are missing a trick.

Eddie aggro suggests he’s feeling the pressure

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Jones reacted dismissively to suggestions he trains his players too hard (Source: Getty)

I empathise with Eddie Jones but he maybe forgot the art of diplomacy that an international head coach needs with his response to Bath owner’s Bruce Craig’s suggestion that too many England players are injured on his training camps.

I agree that if you’re going to become the best team in the world, the environment and intensity that you train at needs to mirror what you play at – if not be more intense.

But after losing to the largest scoreline they’d ever shipped at Twickenham against an invitational side put together in a week against the Barbarians last Saturday, Jones is a man under pressure.

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