When it comes to rugby sevens, few players can match the experience and achievements of England‘s James Rodwell.
The 29-year-old is his country’s most capped forward of all time in the shorter form of the game and sits fourth in the list of overall caps. He can also boast the rare achievement of having played in 50 consecutive World Series tournaments.
This summer, Rodwell is gearing up for his second shot at the Commonwealth Games having been part of the side that fell to an agonising fourth-placed finish four years ago in Delhi.
Sports Mole caught up with the veteran ahead of this summer’s Games in Glasgow.
Coming up to the Commonwealth Games, how big a part does missing out on a medal four years ago play on those of you who were in Delhi?
“There are four of us who were involved in Delhi and we’ve spoken about it a few times over the years. It’s probably the worst place to finish a medal event is fourth place, and it’s been on my mind since so I’m really looking forward to getting up to Glasgow and giving it a shot to try to go better than that and be involved in the medals.”
This summer’s Games are obviously a lot closer to home than those four years ago – do you think that could play into your hands?
“I’d like to think so, yeah. Hopefully there will be a lot of fans travelling across the border up to Scotland to give us some support. There is a lot of buzz still around from the London Olympics and hopefully people will tag on to that, and with sevens being a new sport for a lot of people to go and watch it’s an opportunity for them to come and watch us and give us some support.”
The sevens take place at Ibrox Stadium, a venue steeped in sporting history. Is the prospect of playing in such a historic venue exciting for the team?
“Yeah, definitely. I’ve been involved in the sevens up in Scotland a few times and we’ve gone from Murrayfield, which is a massive stadium, to Scotstoun which is slightly smaller, and now back to Ibrox, which has got such a lot of history with football. I’m really looking forward to getting up there, having a look round and just getting on the pitch.”
The Commonwealth Games are a completely different experience to the IRB World Series. Having had experience of staying in the athletes’ village and rubbing shoulders with so many different people from so many different countries and sports, would you say it is a distraction or is the excitement good for the team?
“You could look at it both ways. If you let it distract you then I’m sure there are lot of things going on that will distract people. But as a squad if we can stay close and get through it together â we’re one of the early events to finish so hopefully we won’t have too many distractions in that sense with other sports finishing and having late nights.
“We’re really looking forward to getting up there and getting going. We sat down a couple of weeks ago and just talked about the differences between the World Series and a Commonwealth Games and what different scenarios it brings to try to get some of the newer guys up to speed.
“[Head coach Simon Amor] had the experience as well so obviously he can chip in his thoughts on that and he’s looking to some of the guys that have been there before to help the others out as well. It’s a pretty special experience to go to a multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games, so it shouldn’t be forgotten lightly.”
As you mentioned earlier, only four of the 12-man squad have been to the Commonwealth Games before. With a fairly inexperienced squad in that sense what is your role as the most senior member?
“We’ve got quite an inexperienced squad in terms of going to the major events like this, but a lot of the boys have played a lot of sevens on the World Series this season so as a squad we’re really happy with where we’re at.
“We’ve got the belief that we can go up there and do something special, and that’s the important thing. If you believe in what you can do as a squad then hopefully there will be nothing stopping us.”
England’s opening two games of the tournament are against Sri Lanka and Uganda – two unknown quantities in terms of rugby sevens. How are you approaching those matches?
“We take nothing for granted when we’re playing anyone in sevens. The bounce of a ball can do cruel things to you, so we know we’ve got to be at the top of our game for all three group games to qualify for the quarter-finals. They’re a good challenge as you don’t see them very often on the World Series so we’ve got to be playing some good rugby, give them some respect and put on a performance.”
The first big test on paper comes in the shape of Australia, who England face in their final match of the opening day. Could that game be instrumental in determining how far you can go in the tournament as a whole?
“We played them in the group in Delhi as well and we beat them back then and they went on to get the silver medal. So that game is important to give us a measure of where we’re at but the importance of day one is to qualify for the quarter-finals.
“Then you come to day two and you build on that from your performances. Hopefully we can beat them but, as they showed, if you lose a game in the groups but then qualify you could still go on to do well in the tournament.”
The favourites going into the tournament are New Zealand, who have won every gold at the Commonwealth Games since the sport was introduced 16 years ago. They won the IRB World Series this year and the World Cup in 2013, so is there any stopping them in Glasgow?
“They’re definitely the team to beat. I don’t think they’ve lost a game at the Commonwealth Games. We’ve had a few good tussles with them this season and we’ve come out on top a couple and they’ve beaten us a couple of times. We know that if we play our best rugby then they’re beatable, which is definitely important to take up there.”
Another perennial challenger for medals is Fiji, who won’t have a sevens team in Glasgow due to being reinstated to the Commonwealth too late. It is obviously a blow for fans wanting to see their entertaining style but, as a player in the hunt for medals, is their absence a positive for you?
“Fiji are just such a powerhouse in the game of sevens. It’s their national sport over there, but unfortunately they got accepted back into the Games a little bit late and the draw had already been done. There will be a lot of the crowd missing them there I suppose, but for us it could be a good thing. But as I said, we know we can beat anyone on our day if we put in the right performance.”
England will be gunning for gold at Ibrox this month, and you can follow the action from both days of the sevens with Sports Mole on July 26-27.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/24865350
Interview: England Rugby Sevens" James Rodwell