October 10, 2013 (ISN) – As interviews go, this was far easier than the last couple I’d had with Simon Amor. Back then, as England’s captain, there were tears in his eyes as he struggled to patch up his emotions after numbing defeats, to Fiji in the semi-finals of the 2005 Sevens World Cup in Hong Kong, and to New Zealand in the final of the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
This was staged, anodyne and corporate by comparison, and yet the delicious twist is that Amor is now set to throw himself back into the pot after a seven-year absence.
As you’d expect from a Cambridge graduate, he says all the right things. The job is one he has always wanted. He feels honoured. He’s inherited strong systems from his predecessor, Ben Ryan, and of course some wonderful players. Consummate stuff. And yet almost in the same breath Amor the entrepreneur emerges, as does the subject of change.
“There’s a longer term vision as to where England Sevens fits, and that’s something I’ve got to grow and work on with [RFU head of international player development] Joe Lydon in terms of the player pathway and how this Sevens programme can really be integrated into the RFU system, and into the premiership and championship clubs.”
So in summary, in time we can expect something of an about-turn from England’s Sevens programme. It will take time, but Amor – and more importantly his boss Lydon – sees the Sevens environment developing players again, as opposed to standing on its own as a performance model.
All of this makes sense. Back when Lydon was coach of England, and Amor was captain, he and Ben Gollings were the ever-present nucleus around whom teams were built. Players came and went, players of genuine class: Josh Lewsey, Henry Paul, Tom Croft, James Haskell, Tom Youngs, Matthew Tait, David Strettle, Ben Foden, Danny Care, Ugo Monye. The list goes on, and yet the last player to ‘graduate’ from England’s Sevens environment to the national team was Christian Wade, some time ago and after little time in the set-up.
Amor was Director of Rugby at London Scottish until recently and he is certainly not naive. He knows all too well that the strength of England’s Aviva Premiership clubs means he’s now playing with a different deck of cards, which is precisely what drove Ben Ryan to push for full-time Sevens contracts.
In assembling his squad for the first round of the HSBC Sevens World Series, this weekend’s Gold Coast Sevens, Amor faced no fraught and last-minute phone calls to Directors of Rugby negotiating player release. His England Sevens players are his, no questions asked.
But you sense that in time, with a key ally in Lydon, he is going to willingly put himself back in that firing line and look to widen the net – as he puts it ‘get the blend and the balance right’ – both for himself and the RFU.
All of this may be some way off and in the short term Amor’s focus is on the players he has now, and there are some wonderful talents in his current squad. In attack he is blessed with the likes of Mat Turner, Dan Norton and Tom Mitchell but he has been working hard with limited time in other areas.
“It’s about changing, subtly, the way we play the game. Everyone knows we have some outstanding attacking runners with ball in hand. Defensively is the area we have to look at and shift slightly – how they make their decisions and how they defend – and that will be our focus right up until the first kick-off against Spain in the Gold Coast.”
So for now England under Amor will look much as they did last season under Ryan, and why not with a World Cup runners-up medal in the locker? But changes may be afoot..
Seb Lauzier interviews the teams for TV after every match of the HSBC Sevens World Series. One week out from the Gold Coast Sevens, he speaks with England’s new coach Simon Amor. You can follow him and tweet in your questions @seblauzier.