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George Ford’s advice for England’s new attack coach: Keep it simple, please

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Exclusive interview: Fly-half says he is looking forward to working with Simon Amor at Six Nations but does not want a revolution in style

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:31 am

Updated Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 9:43 am
George Ford is one of three England fly-halves selected for the Six Nations (James Robinson/Land Rover)

Eddie Jones has yet to reveal his hand at fly-half for England’s Six Nations opener in France this Sunday but the coach’s cards are the same as the ones he dealt himself at the World Cup three months ago – a choice between George Ford and Owen Farrell to start at No 10, unless the Wasps youngster Jacob Umaga is about to receive a very unlikely promotion.

Where England are doing things differently to their rollercoaster run as runners-up to South Africa in Japan is in their line-up of coaches. Matt Proudfoot, previously with the Springboks, is now in charge of the England forwards, with Steve Borthwick redesignated as skills coach. And the biggest change is Simon Amor as attack coach in succession to Scott Wisemantel, who left for the same role with his native Australia.

As Amor’s coaching experience has been almost entirely in Sevens, it is a highly unusual appointment, leading some to identify a connection with the 40-year-old being on the books of the Rugby Football Union already, at a time when the Union is looking to control its costs.

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Almost all the England back division including the scrum-halves Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz also carried over from the World Cup, adding to the sense of player continuity at the pre-Six Nations training camp currently in Portugal. Just before the England squad left for the Algarve, Ford told i what he was expecting from Amor, who worked with the team at a handful of pre-World Cup sessions when Wisemantel was indisposed.

Simon Amor was England’s sevens coach before joining the men’s 15-a-side team (Getty Images)

“He [Amor] has a background in sevens, which is a very attacking game,” said Ford. “It is completely different and they probably think about the game a bit differently so I am massively intrigued in some of the ideas we will be doing with Simon. He is a positive guy, constantly giving you feedback. I am sure he’s watched loads of 15s, even if he might not have coached it that much.”

According to Ford, players are never consulted about the hiring of coaches, whether it is with England or with his club Leicester, where Borthwick will become head coach later this season. But Ford loves coaches who can put across the game’s inherent simplicity – and he says Jones is “incredible” at that, and Borthwick is “the best” at explaining “what you are doing and why you are doing it”.

Ford explained: “There is a lot spoken about systems and little links and intricacy, and I get all that. But I have been in environments where you focus too much on that stuff, working towards that one special move which might not even be there anyway. So what about the bloody rest of it? Rugby is an incredibly simple game. When you get the ball, where is the space? There has to be space somewhere.”

England and South Africa scrum down during the 2019 Rugby World Cup final (Getty Images)

And is there a change rugby could make to enhance that search? Ford went along with my joke that forward passes would make life simpler, and he referred laughingly to rugby league’s uncontested scrums. But then he said, more seriously, he would like union scrums restricted to two sets.

“I am not saying stop the set-piece by any stretch of the imagination,” Ford said. “But we could see a lot more ball-in-play attacking and defending if we sorted the scrum out. Maybe have a rule that you stop the clock while the scrums are reset. Or a rule that the maximum we can reset a scrum is twice. Everyone would know you have a scrum and if it goes down you have got one more chance and then it’s ‘boom’, play on, and it’s the referee’s call whether it’s a free-kick here or a free-kick there – and you can’t re-scrum, by the way, you’ve got to tap it.

“You might see less messing around. It’s something just to say you can’t come up with your little dark arts and your tricks, slowing the game down. You know the ball is going to come out and you get to play some rugby. The forwards still get their opportunity to scrum and win penalties because they get two shots at it. But it’s just not five minutes’ worth of… nothing really. Well it is something for them. But not for us.”

George Ford is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover has been helping rugby fans discover the sport for over twenty years. Visit LandRover.co.uk

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7s World Cup

RFU makes U-turn and reinstates full-time sevens programme

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“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.” 

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Japan stun South Africa with victory at Rugby World Cup

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Japan pulled off the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history on this day in 2015 with a stunning 34-32 win over South Africa at the Amex Stadium in Brighton.

A try by Karne Hesketh in the final minute helped Eddie Jones’ side end their long wait for another victory in the quadrennial tournament.

The only previous World Cup win for Japan had been in 1991, but their 24-year wait without one – which stretched across 18 games – was ended in spectacular fashion on the south coast.

South Africa, two-time winners of the Webb Ellis Trophy at this stage, held a narrow lead at half-time and, in spite of a bright start by the underdogs, it was expected the Springboks would prove too strong after the break.

It did not prove the case with Ayumu Goromaru producing an accomplished display with the boot and when he converted his own try with 10 minutes left, the score was 29-29 and his own personal tally for the match stood at 24.

A Handre Pollard penalty seemed to have South Africa on course to narrowly avoid a big shock but Japan were not about to go down lightly.

Following a sustained period of pressure, a quick ball found Hesketh on the left flank and he dived over to spark wild and unexpected scenes of celebration at the Amex where the crowd were treated to a huge World Cup shock.

Japan’s Karne Hesketh scores the winning try against South Africa in 2015

Japan’s Karne Hesketh scored the winning try against South Africa in 2015 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Japan players soaked up the adulation of the fans at full-time and bowed in front of the main stand, with this one of three wins for Jones’ side during the tournament.

It was not enough to secure a first-ever berth in the knock-out phase but the foundations for future success had been laid.

While Jones would move on and take charge of England, successor Jamie Joseph picked up the baton and lead his country into a home tournament in 2019 where they produced two more shocks.

Group wins over Ireland and Scotland – the latter avenging a heavy loss four years earlier – saw Japan reach a maiden quarter-final and despite a 26-3 defeat to eventual champions South Africa, their own campaign and the overall World Cup was deemed a huge success.

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7s World Cup

Rugby: Shujaa to play USA in Vancouver 7s Quarterfinals : The standard Sports

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Rugby Sevens team in Kurumu City, Japan, on July 13, 2021. [Edward Alusa/Team Kenya]

The national men’s rugby sevens team Shujaa stormed to the quarterfinals of the Vancouver 7s after finishing second in Pool A.

Kenya thrashed Spain and Mexico to reach the Cup quarterfinals at the Vancouver Sevens on Saturday night.

Shujaa defeated a tricky Spain 17-5 in thwir opening match before thrashing an unfamiliar Mexico side 45-7 to sail through to the knock out stages.

This is despite losing to familiar foes South Africa 33-14 in their last Pool “A” match on Sunday morning.

Kenya Sevens finished second in the Pool A with seven points, tow behind leaders South Africa who won all their three pool matches.

The Innocent Simiyu led team will now play United States in the quarterfinal at 7.42pm on Sunday.

This will be a repeat of the Tokyo Olympics match which Kenya lost at the death 19-14.

The winner of the quarterfinals will face off with either Ireland or Hong Kong in the semifinals.

Meanwhile, MMUST’s Timothy Mmasi scored his first try for the national sevens team after scoring between the posts for Kenya in their 45-7 win over Mexico.

Mmasi is among the five young players selected by Simiyu for the World Sevens Series.

Alvin ‘Buffa’ Otieno has been the star of Kenya so far scoring three tries followed by Alvin Marube with two same as Willy Ambaka.

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