Sevens stars signed up by RFU
July 15, 2010
Ben Ryan has begun preparations for the Commonwealth games © Getty Images
The Rugby Football Union have broken new ground by signing 10 core members of England's provisional Commonwealth Games Sevens squad on central contracts.
Twickenham officials hope the move could prove a significant step towards eventually bringing England's best senior players under full RFU control. England's current access to their elite players is governed by an eight-year agreement with the Aviva Premiership clubs worth around £110million. The deal, which expires in 2015, prohibits the RFU from recruiting established Premiership players. None of those who signed Sevens terms with the RFU had been offered club contracts.
"Potentially what will happen is we could cherry-pick the best youngsters to play Sevens for a year or two - and if they go well and get on a Saxons tour, then why wouldn't we want to hold onto their contracts?" said a Twickenham source. "Eventually that could mean some senior players being on central contracts."
In the medium term, the prospect of an RFU deal could lead to players coming off a Premiership contract choosing between Sevens and 15-a-side.
Wasps winger Tom Varndell, who won Commonwealth Games silver with England in Melbourne four years ago, said, "It could definitely be an option for players to make a living out of it."
That eventuality is some years down the line and Premier Rugby, the clubs' umbrella body, confirmed they are not currently concerned about the RFU contracting a specialist Sevens squad. The immediate benefit for England Sevens coach Ben Ryan is that he can prepare for October's Commonwealth Games with a settled group. In an ideal world, Ryan would be able to pick from the cream of the Premiership but the clubs will not release their players for the intense 12-week training programme.
England's Commonwealth Games preparations include a first appearance at the Middlesex Sevens before Ryan announces his final squad in September. The likes of Varndell and Mathew Tait, who both have Sevens experience but were not included in England's senior squad, could come into the frame for Commonwealth Games selection.
The contracted group includes Ben Gollings, the world record points scorer, along with the former Worcester flanker Chris Cracknell and Sevens regular Isoa Damudamu. At the other end of the scale there is a call for the uncapped Miles Mantella, who is fresh from leading Millfield to National Schools Sevens titles in 2009 and 2010.
"We've got experience, we've got youth and we have the expertise of taking part in big competitions," said Ryan. "It gives us the backbone you need to bring through some exciting young players. The objective for these players now is to get selected and then to deliver for a winning England team at the Commonwealth Games.
"There will be big guns in New Delhi like New Zealand, who have won three gold medals since sevens was introduced to the Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. We're certainly not going to be the favourites but we believe and trust in the players."
The sevens tournament will be staged on October 11-12 with England drawn alongside Australia, Namibia and Sri Lanka in Pool D.
England Commonwealth Games training group: G Barden*, K Barrett, J Brake*, D Caprice*, A Cheeseman, C Cracknell*, I Damudamu*, B Gollings*, S Hunt, O Lindsay-Hague, M Mantella, D Norton, T Powell*, J Rodwell*, N Royle*, M Turner*, C Wade.
*Centrally-contracted by RFU