Magnificent sevens to ride again

 
Frank Dalleres
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Twickenham braced to host season finale to Sevens World Series

AMID the exuberance and outlandish costumes it could be easy to forget that the Marriott London Sevens represents the business end of a gripping HSBC World Series season – and it is far from over.

New Zealand may be in touching distance of winning the overall competition for a 12th time, but South Africa retain the faintest of hopes of pipping the All Blacks in the last of nine events, and England could yet have a huge say in the destination of the trophy.

The hosts have been drawn in the same pool as New Zealand, who need just four points to clinch the World Sevens Series title, and as such could inflict an early dent on the favourites’ aspirations by beating them in tomorrow’s first round.

Perhaps it was with the prospect of colliding with the physically fearsome All Blacks in mind that England head coach Simon Amor has recalled the strapping Chris Cracknell to his squad for the Twickenham showpiece.

Cracknell is joined in the 12-man party by fellow stalwarts Mat Turner and Christian Lewis-Pratt, who between the three boast more than 80 tournament caps, while Amor will also expect key displays from captain Tom Mitchell and the blistering Dan Norton.

Mitchell is the top points scorer in the series by an enormous margin – his tally of 310 is 70 greater than his nearest rival and has seen him shortlisted for the IRB Sevens World Player of the Year – while Norton has weighed in with 24 tries.

England arrive at the season finale in strong form, having won the Plate last weekend in Glasgow following increasingly promising fourth, third and second-place finishes in successive events in New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong.

Tomorrow and Sunday they are hoping to improve further still and win the Twickenham leg for the first time since 1999, though Amor admits his team will need to finish his first campaign in charge with a flourish in order to unseat London Sevens champions New Zealand.

“This draw will be a challenge but we have spoken a lot in recent weeks and months about creating our own identity in terms of defence and attack and trusting our systems. If we get that right, we can be confident going into each game,” the former England Sevens captain said.

“As an England player, playing in front of a sell-out crowd at Twickenham is a huge occasion and having added experience in the squad will certainly be a benefit. Cracknell brings physicality and size and, in the make-up of our team, that’s important.

“In Mat Turner, we’ve got someone who can be one of the best finishers in the series. Christian has come on a great deal in training in recent weeks, in terms of his leadership as well as attack and defence. I’m really excited to see how he goes.”

LONDON SEVENS SCHEDULE

Saturday: Pool Stage

Pool A
New Zealand
England
Argentina
Wales

Pool B
Canada
Kenya
Samoa
USA

Pool C
Fiji
Australia
Spain
Japan

Pool D
Scotland
South Africa
France
Portugal

England fixtures
v Wales, 11:34am
v Argentina, 2:40pm
v New Zealand, 6:06pm
Sunday: Knockout stage
Quarter-finals, 9:00am-11:48am
Semi-finals, 12:06pm-2:54pm
Finals, 3:22pm-5:16pm