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England seek special Delhi blend

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Tom Fordyce | 06:09 UK time, Sunday, 10 October 2010

Beetroot juice, suits made of tin-foil and alcohol hand-rub. If it sounds like an unlikely recipe for sporting success, it's one that will be put to the test in Delhi over the next few days.

England's rugby sevens team, led by record-breaking Ben Gollings and coached by the meticulously maverick Ben Ryan, begin their medal quest on Monday. And if their path to the podium involves a few unusual detours, so be it.

"We're always looking to try out different things, because potentially they could be the difference between winning a medal or not," says Gollings, the highest points-scorer in World Series Sevens tournament by a huge margin.

"Sevens is a crazy sport. With the 15-a-side game you generally have a week between matches to recover. We don't. We play multiple games over two days, and yet you need to be performing at your best at the end of the second day."

So. Those methods in full. The tin-foil tracksuits?

Ben Gollings in tin-foil tracksuit

"The idea is to keep the body temperature up, so that after a warm-up we don't lose all the benefits. The boys might look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but we can handle it.

"You want to minimise the warm-up. Some of us might be running a kilometre of sprints in a warm-up, flat out, and that really adds up - it's almost half what we'd do in a game. And you need to maximise your performance in the big games."

Hand-rub? "Playing on the Sevens circuit you get used to arriving in a foreign country and having to get on with it, no matter what the circumstances. No ice in water, don't eat salads, keep your hands clean - these are all basic rules. You have to minimise the risks as much as possible. The last thing we want is for two or three of the boys to go down with something."

And beetroot juice? "Drinking it can help with lactic acid." He chuckles. "if you don't try these things you'll ever know. Sevens has been a good place to experiment with these elements, and the main England squad has benefitted from that work further down the line."

Gollings, who will be appearing at his third Commonwealths, is the most experienced player in the tournament. In the course of scoring his 2,347 points he has touched down for tries in Japan ("all about protocol"). New York ("what a skyline for a backdrop!") and Las Vegas ("middle of the desert - weird and wonderful").

"Having travelled the world you get used to dealing with heaps of distractions, and with each country's own characteristics and conditions," he says.

"This time we arrived a fortnight before the competition, the first time we've ever done that. The last two times we've only been in the village for two or three days all up.

If anyone could side-step a dengue-carrying mosquito, it's probably Gollings. But there are other, less well-publicised dangers he is more concerned about.

"The biggest distraction can be the food hall. Open 24 hours non-stop, eat whatever you like, all sorts of cuisine from Italian to Thai, Chinese to Indian, a massive ice-cream area with every flavour you can think of!

"Mate, it's a killer," he jokes. "You might think, I'll just pop down there for a snack, and pretty soon you're picking up some dangerous habits."

Four years ago in Melbourne, with the atmosphere at the sevens the pick of the Games, an England squad featuring Mathew Tait, Tom Varndell and Henry Paul stormed to the silver medal. Matching that this time around could be tough.

Three-time gold medallists New Zealand will start as favourites, with Samoa - reigning World Series champions - tight up behind, the talents of IRB Sevens Player of the Year Mikaele Pesamino at their disposal.

While New Zealand's squad includes three full All Blacks in Hosea Gear, Zac Guildford and Ben Smith, England do not have the household names of 2006, when they could afford to trim Ugo Monye and David Strettle from their squad. But results last year - the defeat of New Zealand in Wellington and victory at the London Sevens have instilled a quiet sense of confidence in Ryan's men.

"We're not going in with quite the same favourite ranking as Melbourne, but I think that's a good thing," says Gollings. "We can sneak in under the radar and do our business.

"We've got a big game against Australia at the end of the first day which will decide our seeding going into the quarter-finals, and I'd like to say we're in with a pretty good chance. We're there to win a gold medal."

For the sport as a whole, these Commonwealths are another shop window as it moves towards full Olympic status in 2016. Five of the current top six in the IRB Sevens rankings are here in Delhi - the sole exception being Fiji, suspended from the Commonwealth after a military coup four years ago.

"It's been slowly coming to the boil over the past decade, but the Olympic inclusion has just made the whole thing leap forward. Players will now make a decision whether they want to be full-time 15-a-side players or full-time sevens players.

"It's a sport that people love to watch. If you think how big Twenty20 cricket has become, this is the same - hard and fast and you hit it."

England's squad enjoyed a link-up with their hockey counterparts at Bisham Abbey before coming over to Delhi, giving a masterclass in drop-goals in return for a drag-flick clinic.

Gollings, a self-described "mad-keen hockey player" as a teenager, had the chance to go to England hockey trials as a 16-year-old. Unfortunately they were being held on the same day as the rugby trials. The oval-ball sport won out.

One of the players he bonded with at the recent link-up - forward James Tindall - scored three times on Saturday as England's hockey team powered past New Zealand. If the pattern repeats itself at Delhi University on Tuesday afternoon, Gollings will be very close to Sevens heaven.


  • Comment number 1.

    point ?

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting article, always good to find out a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. Looking forward to watching the sevens, especially with the strength of competition. Fingers crossed for England!

    Bakedbeans... er, what's the point of your comment? Tom's blogs are far more informative/interesting than your continual negative comments!

  • Comment number 3.

    just realised,the favourite name for dogs in India is tommy .
    maybe a article by tom on the origins of the trend ...

  • Comment number 4.

    How wonderfully ironic to see that Oludamola Osayomi has tested positive for a controlled substance. She it was, you will remember, who graciously celebrated her 100m medal with the comment, "I don't know why they allow people to participate in the competition if they cannot follow the rules."

    Neither do we, Damola, neither do we.

    Now leave your medal on the table, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

  • Comment number 5.

    #1 quelle surprise, another negative comment. There are plenty of people who regularly visit the BBC website who enjoy Tom's blogs so give up on the constant negativity! Why oh why do you continue to post nonsense if you hate everything so much?

  • Comment number 6.

    truth hurts , criticism is given to improve tom's competence as a journalist.

  • Comment number 7.

    we don't want tom to report only on england's problems with teenage pregnancy,class barriers,hooliganism ,always wet weather ,racism or genocide by british poodle soldiers in Iraq , instead of the olympics.

  • Comment number 8.

    #6 & #7
    You do realise you could be sued for making comments such as you have in your final comment?

    All you are doing is dragging the reputation of India into the gutter and appearing to represent all Indian's as bigot's which is what you are accusing others of being. If you can't see that what you're writing is racist then you shouldn't be putting yourself forward as a representative of our country. We should be able to acknowledge our shortcomings (and celebrate what we're great at) in a gracious manner, not with the hostility you are showing. What do you think is accomplished by lying? You say that the English have class barriers - what about the caste system in India? You say its always wet (its not!), but we have our monsoon season. Accusing them of racism and genocide is an unbelievable insult for which frankly if you had the guts to say in public could well see you arrested.

    Please do not try to portray yourself as standing up for my country - you are doing it nothing but harm. I hope more of my countrymen and women stand up as I am and repudiate your nasty little comments.

    This is meant to be a nice blog about rugby, not somewhere for you to preach your nasty form of racism. If you live in England, you should leave if you hate the English so much, and even if you don't, your next post should be an apology to India, and to everyone else you have offended.

    Be a man, and do the honourable thing. Anything less will see you only laughed at by all right-minded Indian's.

  • Comment number 9.

    Umm...yeah. Anyways.

    Really good article, Tom. I can't wait to see how England do tomorrow afternoon. Good to see they beat the Aussies to qualify top seeds in their group, I just hope they can take it all the way.

    Gollings is a legend of the game. If anyone deserves a Gold medal, it's hime.

  • Comment number 10.

    India does have a caste problem and frankly by defending england's wet weather i have lost all respect for your intelligence , and i thought you were passionate but intelligent .

  • Comment number 11.

    maint123 - give it a break. I've just looked at you user profile and you've done nothing but spout negative unrelated comments on every topic. This is a rugby blog and as such, discuss rugby, or run along back to your dark, dingy little spare room and go blog on 4chan or somewhere else, where your childish comments will be better received.


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