Australian Rugby Sevens team want a London Twickenham high
The Australian Rugby Sevens team head to Twickenham this weekend to try and finish their IRB World Series year on a high. TIM MARTIN caught up with captain, Ed Jenkins, and coach, Michael O’Connor, in the London Eye to talk footy, Olympics and lofty ambitions.
By Tim Martin
High above London, perched precariously over the Thames, the brains trust of the Australian Rugby Sevens team are talking off lofty ambitions.
“It’s been a good season and we want to finish on a high,” says Ed Jenkins, the Australian Rugby Sevens captain. It’s a fitting statement, seeing as we’re at almost the highest point you get in the English capital in a transparent London Eye capsule. We can just make out in the distance, through the typically British pea-soup fog, Twickenham Stadium – the place where this weekend Australia will aim to finish their IRB World Series with a flourish.
“We’ve shown good improvement this season and that’s consistent with previous years,” says Michael O’Connor, the Australian team coach. “We tend to get better as the year goes on and traditionally these last two tournaments have been good for Australia.”
Indeed they have. The Aussies took the London title two years ago in 2010, pushed hard for it last year and have shown they are peaking at the right time again this year, with an epic win in Tokyo (two tournaments ago) and just narrowly missing out on a place in the final in Glasgow last weekend.
The Tokyo win probably best sums up the Aussie team’s season. After a raft of injuries devastated the boys in the lime green (a colour the coach thinks – and hopes – won’t be around next year) and saw them post some disappointing results in the middle stages of the World Series, they made the final against the odds in the inaugural Japanese Sevens event.
“It was quite a courageous effort because we were down to eight players and only had one fresh reserve for the final. It was a great second day and a great result,” says O’Connor, clearly proud of his team’s resilience.
“We’ve only had two wins since I have been in the squad,” says the 25 year old Jenkins. “So it was fantastic to get that win in Tokyo and the final – with only one man on the bench and to beat such an experienced side like Samoa – it was pretty special.”
But the Tokyo heroics are now behind them, as they know they will have to produce another sizzling display to hold off the almost certain Series winners New Zealand, as well as Fiji, South Africa and crowd favourites England, at Twickenham.
“Twickenham has to be up there with one of my favourite tournaments,” Jenkins tells me with glee, the intensity and passion very obvious in his eyes. “We won it back in 2010 and obviously, the crowd is always great and I think they’re talking about getting 100,000 for the two days this year so it should be great.”
The London tournament is special for O’Connor too, but for another reason.
“We get a lot of Aussie support here in London, in fact we get more support here than any other tournament because of the expat community, it’s really good.”
I nod in agreement because when Michael O’Connor talks footy, you listen. Coach of the Australian Sevens team for four years now, he is a dual international having represented Australia in both union and league, as well as being a Winfield Cup (now the NRL premiership) winning captain with Manly in 1987. But it’s Sevens that holds his attention most at this moment in time.
“The older I get my attention span seems to shorten, so I like the fact the games are over after 15 minutes and generally they are pretty tight games. They’re exciting games, you don’t see a lot of kicking, you see a lot of ball in hand, a lot of movement. I love, just the exciting nature and exciting tries that are scored. It really encapsulates the best of the 15’s game for me, you know – the tackle, the breakdown, good ball movement, athleticism, technique – you get it all.”
It’s a sentiment clearly not lost on the players too, especially for Jenkins who muses that he wouldn’t much fancy a Super Rugby contract if it was to come at the detriment of his Sevens career.
“I love Sevens. It’s the travel you get to do mainly, plus it’s a great tour – you’re playing to full capacity crowds around the world. Obviously it’s a small group of guys you travel with so you get to know them really well and we’ve got a few characters at the moment, so they keep us entertained.”
If he can keep his pace and fitness (and “remain injury free”), Jenkins may just find himself travelling with the team for a few more years yet and could even dream of leading them out at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Being included as an Olympic sport has definitely given the sport a shot in the arm,” says O’Connor. “I know noticed just from year to year that the tournaments are getting bigger and the schedule is now spreading – we go to South America next year [Argentina has been added to the 2013 IRB World Series itinerary]. We had Tokyo for the first time this year – so the game is spreading and growing, particularly outside of Australia.
“We play an international sport and that is a real driver I reckon for it, especially in Australia. Not too many players get the opportunity to play on an international stage. We don’t play a national competition like most other sports in Australia – we play other countries around the world and the players that we attract are young players who enjoy travel and it’s a great entre to see the world.”
For now though, the Twickenham cauldron awaits and 100,000 fans and spectators who will be cheering (and booing) the Aussie team on. It’s Ed, the captain and the man who will lead the lime greens out on Saturday, who sums it up best.
“At the end of the day, we just want to be able to finish on a high really and I know we can probably win this competition so it would be great.”
From far up high, in the London Eye, above the capital’s traffic and noise, you can’t argue with his thoughts, no matter how elevated they are.
Don’t miss Australia at the Marriott London Sevens on Saturday and Sunday this weekend at Twickenham. Visit Rfu.com/londonsevens for tickets and further details.