7s - 0910 - England
With the 15-a-side rugby season drawing to a close, the 7s season is only really beginning, and the RAF team decided to start their quest with a gruelling training session with none other than the England team at RAF Halton. The Rugby Football Union view 7s as an ideal preparation ground for players stepping up to the international stage, but in recent years it has become much more than that, developing into a fully fledged sport in its own right, highlighted recently by its inclusion as an Olympic sport. Recent tests have shown that 7s requires a greater level of fitness than the 15s game, and therefore encourages players to train harder and for longer, which in itself prepares them well for the 15s game. So when the opportunity came about to train our Spitfire team alongside the England squad, coach Tim Barlow jumped at the opportunity and invited them along to RAF Halton for a 3-day gruelling session.
The England players are obviously drawn from all across the country, mostly playing for premiership clubs, and the squad has in the past included players from the Army and Royal Navy. This represented a great opportunity for some of the RAF players to show what they were made of in front of the England coach, Ben Ryan.
The week opened formally with a function at Halton House Officers’ Mess where the President of the RAFRU, Gp Capt Gary Fletcher had the opportunity to welcome the England squad to Halton, alongside the Station Commander, Gp Capt Garry Tunnicliffe. The function also provided an opportunity for the players to get to know one another before the testing events of the following days. Also present were the new squad sponsors from Spitfire Ale, run by Shepherd-Neame, who were on hand to present the squad with their new strip for the 2010 season.
Day one of training started early, with fitness testing, not just one test but two! It was a real eye-opener to see the levels of fitness the England squad were working to, and gave the RAF team a taste of what was expected at the international level. Impressively, several of the RAF squad were capable of holding their own during the first session, but the standard set by the England team was very noticeable by test two! Modern technology was demonstrated in extreme – and the RAF boys were intrigued to see the England players connect up to their GPS which not only monitored their position, but speed and fitness levels – unfortunately we don’t think the RAF 7s budget will stretch to this level – for this season anyhow! The day continued with ball handling skills and then moved on to offensive and defensive tactics, where again the England squad demonstrated impressive handling skills, but to their credit, the RAF team took to the training with flair, and a noticeable improvement was obvious as the day wore on, culminating in a few tries around the England defence!
The second day consisted of high and low ropes training, focusing on team-building and personal development. Now it was the turn of the RAF team, several of them experienced in this field, to put the England guys to the test. Never shy, coach Tim Barlow joined the players, in guiding the England team around the course, and after a few wobbly leg moments, all squad members had successfully climbed telegraph poles, swung trapezes and reached new levels of confidence in themselves and also their teammates.
‘We are so fortunate to have the England players here’, remarked Tim Barlow. ‘A lot of the emphasis in 7s is focused on tactics, ball handling and fitness, and the England squad have all of these in spades.’ ‘However, it is also essential to have the confidence in one’s own abilities, and in your teammates, and this sort of training is what the RAF excels at, so it has been a two-way thing, and we have all benefitted enormously.’ England coach, Ben Ryan, agreed, ‘This has been a great opportunity for my guys to get into a new environment, play against different opposition and test themselves in roles they do not normally find themselves – especially at the top of a telegraph pole!’ ‘We have all benefitted from these few days and I hope it’s a link we can maintain in the future.’ Wg Cdr Blythe Crawford, team manager, was also pleased with the results. ‘You can even see it in our guys faces – they feel more confident with the ball, they talk to each other constantly, and move around the pitch like pros. I hope the success of this week will be delivered on the competitive field over the coming months.’
The event was also covered by Bucks TV and the following link will let you see what the RAF players were up to.