Leading up to the home leg of the IRB sevens at twickenham – we spoke to Simon Amor the new England Coach on how his first year in charge has been and what he expects from the remaining tournaments…

Coming into the set up in September last year did you find you had to make any instant changes?

Yes. Straight away I could see where the huge strengths were and the work that Ben Ryan had done in his number of years in charge and Mike Friday before him in terms of where they took the programme, but like any new coach I saw a couple of fundamental changes to be made and on the field that was looking at how they were, how we were looking to defend first and foremost so we’ve made a lot of focus on that since my first week, my first month, my first six months. After that it was about getting the guys down on a full time basis working together spending more time looking at videos, reviewing and more one to one type feedback sessions. So more time off the field and on it shorter sessions, most of our sessions rarely go past an hour. Also a bit more intense to replicate the Sevens environment so yes quite a few changes.

What’s been the most difficult part of joining England as their Coach after being a player?

I don’t think there has been any particular difficulty about having been a player. The important thing for me had been to step away from England Sevens completely to go and learn my trade as a coach with London Scottish and UK Sport previously because it gave me a better opinion of how to coach; you see what coaching is; a lot is how you relate to people and communicate to them so I had to go and learn how to do that I guess, taking myself out of the Sevens environment but hoping to bring myself back in.

How difficult is it to come on and be in charge as compared to being a player; do you miss being a player?

No. Sevens is such an intense game physically, I mean I was fortunate to play for a number of years but the number of sacrifices the guys make off the field with their families and everything else to get themselves into that peak condition. People only see the tournaments and they don’t see the absolute hours of graft and the exhaustion that goes with it, which hopefully you’ve experienced today but these guys do it every day. So I don’t miss playing one bit whatsoever. I really enjoy coaching and working with these talented young guys. Seeing them get better and fitter. You want to be successful and win things, of course you do but actually coaching’s about helping people achieve their potential and that’s what’s giving me a lot of joy at the moment.

What’s been the standout tournament for you so far this season?

Well I guess in terms of performances etc. you‘ve got to say Hong Kong. It was our best result with a final but it was also putting one over South Africa in the quarter-finals and Fiji in the semis. I was really proud of the way the guys consistently performed, they understood what was needed. There were seven guys who had never played in Hong Kong before and four guys were in their first or second tournament. To perform as well as they did under that amazing atmosphere I was pleased with the way they managed and also with the way our core guys stepped up too. We were not quite good enough to beat New Zealand, second best in that final but it was a good tournament.

So what are you focusing on leading into the London Sevens?

Yes, it’s a little bit more about attack we’ve been focusing on these last couple of weeks, about how we’re looking to work at the break down, how we’re going to attack in midfield. Trying to bring a bit more physicality into it, break down the contact skills. So that’s been the major focus and hopefully trying to build upon the areas we worked on defensively previously.

Have you got any young players who are your ones to watch for the future?

Well so many, I mean for different kinds of reasons. Young guys coming through, (Simon takes a long thoughtful pause here) It’s that horrible question as a coach you get asked and you know if you pick one out then some of the things that the other guys are doing don’t appear to be noticed. There are so many of the younger guys that are going so well at the moment that I’m sorry but I’m going to sit on the fence.

How do you feel about releasing players to play in invitational teams?

Yeah we try that all the time. We had players playing out in the Hong Kong 10s with both Samurai and Penguins. We’ll be having guys play weekend after next hopefully for a couple of invitational teams as well – at Bury St Edmunds – we’re looking for the right level of competition at the right standard for these guys. The challenge is that unfortunately during the season there are just not too many invitational tournaments. They’re mainly during the summer and that’s understandable of course but it’s in the season October-February where we are really trying to get the guys to keep fit and ready but the invitationals give us options.

What are your aims for next season going forward?

Oh no. We’re focusing for the moment on this season and what we do in Glasgow, what we do in London Marriott Sevens, which hopefully, with a sell-out crowd will be an amazing atmosphere. Then, as importantly, the Commonwealth Games is coming up in July. So everything right now is focused on the short and medium term.

A couple of the players we spoke to earlier said it’s gold, that’s what you’re focused on?

Yes I mean you’re going for the Commonwealth Games. It’s the same as when you are going for an IRB tournament; people sit there and say, what are your expectations and target? Well you want to win every single tournament; you’re playing for your country so you want to win every single game. Of course it’s understandable that Sevens is a sport where you can win or lose a game on the bounce of a ball. That’s the nature of the game and it’s pretty exciting to watch. Does it make you a poor team because you lose on the bounce? No it doesn’t and the important thing is are you making progress and is your progress consistent? If you get that right you give yourself the best chance possible of winning tournaments.

New Zealand. You’ve beaten them once this season. They are the team to beat. What is it going to take to turn out a team that can consistently beat them?

Well you’ve got to look at why they are so good. Firstly they’ve got an outstanding squad. When you go through it there are some world class players in key positions and a world, world class coach who’s been around the block and knows everything inside out so that’s a pretty good combination. But in terms of how they are playing they are a very big, physical, tall side, and particularly at the breakdown they are excellent, absolutely excellent. So if you don’t get that part of the game right against them then you are going to come unstuck. That’s the area we’ve got to get right going forward. With a lot of teams you’ll see they have big forwards but may have smaller backs. New Zealand are all big. Ben Lam is a wing. You’ve got Tim Mickelson who plays at centre who’s right up here (Simon reaches skyward). Even Gillies Kaka, you think he’s small; no he’s not. What that means is that wherever the break down is on the field you’re going to have to have big guys competing at it so it’s a really important area and they do it so well; you’ve only got to watch that Hong Kong final to see how well they do it.

Phil Burgess seems to have brought some of that to you guys this year.

Yeah, Phil’s improved so much considering he’s only played 5 or 6 tournaments now and yet he’s learned so much on the hoof which is pleasing. Losing some of our bigger guys like Jeff Williams and Mike Ellery you have to play it a different kind of way and I’ve had to change the dynamics a bit but people like Phil and James Rodwell, and Alex Gray, if they can make the step up, then we’ve got people there who can compete at the breakdown as well as anyone.

Thanks a lot for speaking with us Simon – best of luck for the home leg!