Sevens Series still wide open
December 15, 2011
England's Chris Cracknell gets the ball away against Fiji © Getty Images
After 36 hours, the journey is finally over. The first three legs of the HSBC Sevens World Series are done and dusted and England are lying in a slightly frustrating fourth place.
The epic journey from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Dubai, Dubai to London is done and dusted too. It certainly tests you after four and a half weeks away, but fortunately for me I only live 30 minutes from our training base in Teddington. Unfortunately for others, further destinations of Poole, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield had to be reached.
With the new points system the International Rugby Board (IRB) have now put in place, the series is wide open after the first three legs (to use the cheesiest cliche of them all), with ourselves, Fiji and New Zealand all winning tournaments and Wales, France, Samoa and Australia performing well. There really is no breakaway team - as we all thought Fiji might be after their dazzling performance in the first leg on the Gold Coast.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of the fantastic support given to us in Dubai. It was unbelievable and truly humbling every time we set foot on the pitch. I'd also like to say how impressed I was with the new venues. Gold Coast was a beautiful location, a well-run tournament and will no doubt grow larger and larger each year. At Port Elizabeth, the crowd on day two was unreal and the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is one of the best I have played in.
As ever, with four weeks away there are high and low points, the obvious highs being England's win in Dubai and the comedy lines that came out of Nick Royle's mouth on a daily basis, as well as the fantastic places we have visited - from the beautiful beaches in Manly, Gold Coast and Port Elizabeth, to the glitz and glamour and never-ending possibilities of Dubai.
The lows of course still rest in the mind. Losing to New Zealand and Samoa in Australia and South Africa are the ones that will stick with me as I inhale my turkey at Christmas and prepare for the next legs in Wellington and Las Vegas in February.
Games like these and the repercussions of losing them - our exits in the quarter-finals and semi finals - are what cause the most hurt and anguish in sport. It's never nice to lose (I for one can't stand it) but the importance of these games and the points that were at stake in our quest to win our first world title are what really leave a bitter taste in my mouth as I look back at the small margins and the decisions we should or shouldn't have made.
These really are the only lows I can see, though, despite being confined to hotels and following a detailed schedule for the last 30 days. I have to admit that not being told what where to be, what to do and what to wear caused a minor mental breakdown when I woke up on Tuesday morning.
We have been fantastically captained by our new skipper Greg Barden and everyone has been a leader in one way or another, whether it be the 19-year-old Marcus Watson's impressive defence, never say die attitude and distribution, or the game-breaking Matt Turner's ability to dance around people. The 14 guys that travelled have been fantastic on and off the field, although I'm still not taking any coffee advice off Tom Powell!
For now though, we will draw a breath from the circus and have a week off, recover, get any bumps and knocks seen to, then next week as the world unwinds we will begin our preparation again. At least I'll have earned my turkey on December 25. Merry Christmas!
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in all the action from the weekend when rugby united behind Samoa
The Wallabies showed flair in Dublin, but they still have a way to go if they are to do more than make up the numbers at the World Cup, writes Greg Growden
England broke their losing streak, but this was not them clawing their way back among the best, writes Tom Hamilton
Wales' lessons to learn in defeat by New Zealand are almost exactly the same as those from previous near-misses, writes Huw Richards