“What you don’t want is a group of players, and I am not only talking about England but teams worldwide, who are like the Harlem Globetrotters who play event after event and it is its own little carnival that goes around. Sevens needs to be aligned and that is what I think everyone is working towards.
“There are plenty of examples of the transfer from sevens to XVs and people look at Ruaridh McConnochie going to the last World Cup, you look at Will Muir’s transition from sevens to XVs at Bath but that is by accident rather than design, rather than it being a targeted development period for a player.”
Before Covid England’s men’s sevens players were paid on a sliding scale from £90,000 down to £25,000 per year. However, the majority of players earned between £25,000 and £50,000 with a number of younger academy players receiving a salary of £5,000 along with accommodation. It is believed both the men’s and women’s programmes cost £2 million in total to run per year.
When £2 million of National Lottery funding was secured to rescue Team GB’s Olympic attempts, it is understood salaries were based on a sliding scale of £25,000 – £40,000 for both men and women depending on experience, and the higher salary bracket for men scrapped. O’Shea also hints there will be a change in expectation around England men’s salaries. “We also have the challenge of a significant readjustment in people’s mind sets regarding salaries and contracts of what is the appropriate positioning of this. What do the core contracts look like?”
Both Team GB’s men and women just came short of winning medals in the Tokyo Games as they lost to Argentina and Fiji respectively in their bronze medal matches. O’Shea pays tribute to the National Lottery as unlike the bulk of Olympic sports sevens does not receive UK Sport funding. “The National Lottery promotional fund support was incredible to get. We were all willing with all our hearts when they got to the Olympic semis and third/fourth place play-offs – we know what all these players went through and they did incredibly well in the circumstances.”
O’Shea says the RFU is open to reforming a Team GB programme at a later date. It is also understood that the new England programme will receive crucial financial support from commercial partners.
With a number of long-serving sevens specialists retiring such as Dan Bibby and Phil Burgess, and younger Tokyo Olympians Ben Harris, 21, and Harry Glover, 25, taking up XVs contracts, there will be a chasm of experience for England’s men. O’Shea and Hayter see this as an opportunity to forge closer bonds with Premiership and Championship clubs but to also look to the university system and talent transfer athletes.
“There is the traditional pathway of tapping into the clubs but then we have universities and tap into that and find players who may not be linked to a club and expose them to high level scenarios,” says Hayter. “The other one is the pathway where players may not have been exposed to the game but they have this raw ability which so much sevens and XVs is linked to, and we can see some really exciting people come into the game.
“It has been shown to work, you look at the amount of players the USA have transferred over,” Hayter adds, citing the likes of Carlin Isles who had a background in athletics as well as American football alongside team-mate Perry Baker.
O’Shea is adamant that the new-look England sevens have their eye on success at the Commonwealth Games and World Cup and, as it stands, England will still have to qualify on behalf of Team GB for the Paris Games.
However, he is frank that when it comes to the women’s side where there were a number of players who have been involved in XVs – the longer format will be the priority for 2022 with the rescheduled women’s World Cup due to take place next October. “The World Cup is unashamedly our focus for next year. We will pull together as competitive a side as possible for the Commonwealths but our focus is for the Red Roses to win the World Cup.
“But any event you put on the England jersey of course we want to win. A lot of effort has been put in. We are committed to sevens and we are committed to getting the right solution for the future.”