HSBC World Rugby Sevens: Tom Mitchell on Twickenham & jacks of all trades
The HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series arrives in Europe for the final two legs of the season - Paris and London.
This weekend will be my first outing at the Stade Jean-Bouin as I didn't take part last year. Those that did play recall tricolours aplenty and a rousing French crowd who were enjoying sevens rugby in Paris for the first time since 2006.
With South Africa 25 points clear at the top of the standings with two tournaments to play, they only need to make the quarter-finals to secure the overall series title.
Samoa shocked a few people when they claimed victory in Paris last year, coached by Damian McGrath. He now coaches Canada, who claimed a well-deserved but unanticipated victory in Singapore in the last round.
This weekend, the series welcomes newly qualified Spain. They won the qualification tournament in Hong Kong and will compete as a core side on the tour next season, having played in the Olympics last summer. They are a passionate group and will be a tough opposition for us as we meet them in our first group game on Saturday.
'Playing at Twickenham is a dream'
The grand finale will again take place in London on 20 and 21 May. Returning to Twickenham for the 10th and last leg of the series is a particularly special occasion for us in the England team.
Setting foot on the hallowed - and incredibly well kept - turf at the home of rugby is a dream for many young players in England and it was no different for me. There is part of me that still feels awestruck when I allow myself to picture that moment standing in the tunnel leading the team out in front of the home crowd. The eight-year-old me playing at East Grinstead Rugby Club didn't even dream this big.
The London Sevens also provides a rare opportunity for us to play in front of friends and family. 90% of our playing time is overseas and, while this allows us to connect with fantastic support for England around the world, our friends and family only enjoy the experience on TV. So this is the occasion when we get to truly share the excitement of the journey with our loved ones.
The roar we get at Twickenham is like no other. A pre-tournament treat for our home leg is choosing which song will play when we take the field, but whatever we choose, the music is lost in the sound of cheering fans and this is the most motivating song we could ask for.
'A sevens players is a jack of all trades'
In 15-a-side rugby, the difference between players' positions and roles is very clear. This is not always so obvious in sevens, where you have to be a bit of a jack of all trades - everyone must tackle, pass well, achieve certain speeds (minimum 32kph) etc.
Loosely we can divide up a squad into four categories - playmakers (scrum-half, fly-half), strike runners (centres, wings), enforcers (props), and link player/fetcher (hooker). I'm a playmaker, and we are responsible for running the attack and manipulating defences. Often the playmakers are also the kickers and sweep behind the line in defence.
The strike runners, such as Dan Norton, are the headline grabbers. They specialise in hot stepping and high speeds, and can hit speeds in excess of 37kph, which is over 10m per second. Tom Bowen utilises both of these attributes brilliantly to beat defenders.
The enforcers are often the big boys, but even the props in sevens will run 1,200m in just over four minutes. These guys are often the bosses at the set piece and are also the physical presence in attack and defence.
The link player/fetchers are most commonly the hookers. Often these guys are the dogs - putting their heads in tackles and rucks for 14 minutes. "Housewives' favourite" Phil Burgess is an ever-present in this role and so these guys need to have a good engine.
England Sevens player of the year
One player missing out on Paris through injury is Richard de Carpentier. He has been a force to be reckoned with on the World Series this year, terrorising opposition with his steam-train carrying and wrecking-ball defence.
On and off the field, "Chippy" enjoys a witty quip. At scrum time he has been known to have a jibe at the opposition prop and he is always on the lookout for a joke. Just don't steal his tea bags otherwise you'll see a different side to him.
Appropriately, Rich picked up the award this week for England Sevens player of the year at the RPA awards. I am sure he is "dead chuffed" (his words, said like a true Lancashire lad).