Tom Mitchell column: England captain on Las Vegas Sevens, turmeric tea and Elvis

Tom Mitchell
Tom Mitchell captained Team GB's silver-medal winning team at the Rio 2016 Olympics

England captain Tom Mitchell is in Las Vegas as his side prepare for the next leg of the World Rugby Sevens Series, which begins on Friday. He tells us about what it's like in Sin City, posh pot noodles, turmeric tea and Elvis…

It's the halfway point of the World Rugby Sevens Series and we find ourselves in 'Sin City' for what is one of the most different legs on the circuit. Where else would you see Iron Man and Elvis having a discussion on a street corner, and visit Paris, New York and Venice in one day?

To give you a little recap before the fifth round of the series, we find ourselves second in the standings behind South Africa,external-link who have been in form this season.

We were lucky enough to play them in the final of the Cape Town Sevens in December, and beating South Africa in their own backyard was one of those special moments I will look back on.

There is a particular memory that stands out from this epic occasion. We stood proudly as a group of 12 players belting out God Save the Queen with only a few faithful England fans to help us out.

South Africa and England sevens teams on the medal podium in Sydney
England are 17 points behind South Africa with six tournaments to play

This was followed by a stadium full of noise for the South Africa anthem, and offered us all a chance to reflect and savour that unique moment.

We had agreed beforehand, in the changing room, that we would enjoy this opportunity and as we stood arm in arm there was a sense that, as a group of players who had worked so hard together for this moment, we were going to make the most of it, and we did.

The last two people I spoke to on the lap of honour after the tournament were an English couple who had first watched sevens in the Olympics on television last year.

They were just two of many fans who came to the sport after the success of Rio.

"We picked a good first one to watch live," they said enthusiastically, and it's great to think we've helped inspire new fans to the game.

Half of our England squad were in Rio last summer, collecting a silver medal.

The newly generated interest from this continues to fuel us in pursuit of medals on the world stage, and this weekend in Las Vegas will be no different.

Late-night revellers prowling the corridors

We had three weeks in England following the Sydney tournament in February, before flying to Vegas.

It was a short turnaround which meant our preparation needed to be spot on before heading Stateside.

We tried to get ahead of the jetlag and time-zone shift by staying up late and getting up late in the morning, as well as using our re-timer glasses that give a 30-minute dose of artificial sunlight when required.

Adjusting to the time zone in advance is worthwhile, especially if you consider that less than a month ago we were 11 hours ahead of GMT, adjusted back and are now eight hours behind, plus contending with late-night revellers prowling the corridors when we're trying to sleep.

Tweet from Tom Mitchell about noise in Vegas

Once at our destination, we aim to seek sunlight during the day to help the body adapt. In Wellington and Cape Town, this can involve beach walks and taking in amazing scenery, but here in Vegas it's a trip down the strip with all its weirdness.

Nutrition also plays a major part in being prepared for the demands of a tournament weekend; no flight food for us these days.

Instead, we eat glorified pot noodles packed with good protein and carbohydrate - everyone always tries to trade the 'vegetarian lasagne' flavour.

Once at our destination we mix up our carbohydrate, protein and fat portions depending on what the programme is for that day.

The high-training days and final days preceding competition are high carb to account for the huge calorie loss, and we aim to get a high portion of fruit and vegetables to support our immune system, supported by multivitamins, fish oils and probiotics to give us a boost.

Hydration during and after the flight is essential for absorption of the nutrients and to set us up for training when we might lose about 2kg of fluid per session.

Don't tell the nutritionist but it has been known for a cookie to be sneaked in here and there to keep us sane.

Alex Davis - aka 'Shitake'

I'm sharing a room with Alex Davis, or 'AJ' as he is known to his team-mates.

Alex can be recognised by his distinctive nose, which sits on an exact 17 degree curve, and his mushroom-style haircut (hence his other nickname - 'Shitake').

Despite hailing from Bristol, he has spent enough time rooming with me for his accent to be solidly southern.

Things AJ and I share in the room: tea (turmeric is a current favourite), an affinity for having our tops off, a meditation app, and our taste in music (on the whole).

Musically we are restricted in our choices when it comes to playing on the bus or within other team environments, so we make the most of our portable speakers in the room.

It is not uncommon to see AJ in his hotel dressing gown nodding along to Stormzy or The Weeknd (his Spotify is 'straight fire' - his words).

Alex Davis
Alex Davis signed his first England Sevens contract in 2014

AJ's England Sevens debut was Gold Coast 2014, and since then he has proved to be a force to be reckoned with on the world series, specialising in beating defenders with his powerful step, a strong fend and pace.

His performances earned him a place in the Team GB Sevens squad for the Olympic Games, but he missed out through an injury sustained in Brazil.

Despite injury setbacks he keeps showing his strength and determination to bounce back, and so the future is very bright for him.

AJ is vying for the title of most popular member of the squad and unfortunately I struggle to make an argument to the contrary. After spending many hours cohabiting on tour, I can say this guy gets it right.

'I think I've heard of rugby'

For this edition of the throwback, I am taking a look back at some of my previous Las Vegas tournaments. As I look out of my hotel window now, the New York Roller Coaster whirls around and it serves as a good metaphor for my experiences here.

My first taste of 'Sin City' was an eye-opening one. I remember the quizzical looks on people's faces around the hotel at the time.

"Do you guys play soccer?"

"No we are England's rugby sevens team."

"Oh, rugby, I think I've heard of that."

The next time I would play here would be in 2014 and my first tournament as captain. It proved to be my first silverware also, as we came away with the plate, and will always serve as a proud moment in my career.

The 'no ruck' tactic

The 'tackle only' or 'no ruck' tactics we saw employed by Italy in the Six Nations has been very topical this week.

The tactic has been seen on the sevens circuit for the past couple of years - in fact Scotland did this a lot last season. Sevens has provided the opportunity to try different things in rugby and other examples of innovation include the use of technology to support performance gains.

Sevens teams, notably England, were the first to use GPS units in matches to track player speeds, distances and movements.

Tom Mitchell
England's first game in Las Vegas is against Chile on Saturday

This is still used now, providing great detail including measuring accelerations and decelerations which are key to understanding demands on the body.

This data enables coaches to monitor players and plan training programmes and manage game time.

A key statistic players are always interested in are speeds clocked up.

Our fastest players, wingers Tom Bowen and Dan Norton, notch up speeds of about 37kph (23mph) and as a squad we'll be hoping to set them up to put that pace to good use this weekend.

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