With the Marriott London Rugby Sevens fast approaching, Will Kelleher joined England’s players for a tough day of training at Twickenham stadium to find out what it takes to win matches and make the crowd roar.
The team behind the England men and women’s sevens squads has helped rewrite the textbook for triumphing in elite level sport by being at the forefront of technology.
I soon found the modern world of rugby sevens is a world of sleep-analysing watches, parachute running and GPS satellite information. It sounds more like the work of James Bond than the Rugby Football Union.
CONDITIONING AS WELL AS STRENGTH
My day began with a brief encounter with the war room of Twickenham, the multi-purpose gym.
Resplendent with various machines, bikes and treadmills alongside a drum and bass soundtrack, the room is testosterone and ambition filled.
My pain began with a specific and typical sevens workout, matching the intensity levels of a game situation. 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Short, sharp, intense, done.
This is not just a room of mindless weightlifting, however; the £40,000 “AlterG” treadmill is a testament to that.
This machine is used to take pressure off an athlete’s lower body when recovering from injury so they can run will the feeling of near weightlessness.
Encouragement from the current squad was plentiful for my ever-dwindling efforts, I was keen to take a more sedate role at the analysis station.
The analysis team, run by Dan Cooper and Dave Gardner demonstrated how complex, diverse and most of all, important their role has become.
This ever-expanding area of the game provides players and coaches alike with information on their every move via the GPS chip in their shirts, it analyses kicking and passing techniques through super slow motion cameras and examines their on-pitch behaviours; whether this be how much they scan in defence and attack or if they communicate successfully, using GoPro cameras and microphones in training.
The opposition is meticulously scrutinised with a vast database available for every lineout, set move or defensive system, at the click of a button.
Marginal gains is the buzz-phrase here. The attention to detail is mind-blowing.
The science behind rugby sevens is taken to a whole new level by Remi Mobed, senior physiotherapist.
His ground-breaking study analyses sleep patterns via actigraphy watches.
Sleep is the best form of recovery and is compromised when the players go from Wellington to Las Vegas and back to London in two weeks.
Mr Mobed hopes this study will help him actually predict the onset of illness or the risk of injury just by looking at sleep patterns and heart rates.
Invaluable information for a squad constantly on the road and in the air.
England Rugby Sevens Players Jo Whatmore, Kay Wilson, Daniel Bibby,Tahir Elmahdi with Will Kelleher
With plenty of science behind us, we descended on the hallowed turf of rugby HQ. Ben Ryan, the men’s head coach, uses philosophies from Barcelona Football Club to provide the England squad with focused, skill-specific and intense training on the field.
Communication is vital and so it is a loud, boisterous but fun atmosphere among these English lions and fairer roses of the Women’s game.
If standards are not met, players are removed from drills. Consistent performance under pressure and when tired is paramount. It is not a tense atmosphere, the players encourage and throw quips as fast as they do passes.
After a buffet lunch complete with smoothie station and all the carbohydrates and proteins you could ask for, it was time to leave the players to their training.
In the build up to the Olympic Games in 2016 the men and women have an almost un-interrupted programme of World Series, World Cup and Commonwealth tournaments.
On the road to Rio they will need all the commitment, intensity, camaraderie, science and analysis they can muster.
The game is simply not just played with seven players and a ball any more.
Players show off their animal instincts
England Sevens players Chris Cracknell, Dan Norton, Tom Mitchell, Alice Richardson and Michaela Staniford
Rugby stars were transformed into wild animals ahead of this year’s sevens tournament at Twickenham stadium.
To celebrate the safari-themed weekend festival of sevens rugby, to be held on May 11 and 12, England players were painted as an animal that represented their style on the pitch.
Alice Richardson, who was painted a zebra, received her first cap aged 18 and is preparing for this summer’s world cup, which will be held in Moscow in June.
The fly half, who also works as a personal trainer, said women’s rugby has seen greater levels of participation within the last few years.
She said: “It’s grown massively, even within the last couple of years the sevens has really taken off.
“There’s more participation across the board with women – some perhaps come across from other sports and see what rugby has to offer.
“I was playing tennis when I was really young, just at senior county level, but I was playing a lot.
“I started playing rugby, but it was just for fun, not anything competitive until about 13 or 14.”
The 25-year-old, who lives in Isleworth, was invited to an under 19s trial at England aged 16.
She said: “At the moment all my focus is on sevens, I’m not playing any 15s, I think 7s suits my style of game.
“With 15s you can spend two weeks to a few months preparing for a game, but with sevens you can play loads of games in one day.
“It’s a very fast game and exciting for crowds to watch.”
For tickets visit http://www.rfu.com/londonsevens