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Farewell England But Welcome Team Great Britain

It was 20 years ago that England finally broke through for their first Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens title but if there are any celebrations to mark the occasion this year they will be muted.
02 Nov 2022 16:06
Farewell England But Welcome Team Great Britain
Former England Captain Ollie Philips

It was 20 years ago that England finally broke through for their first Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens title but if there are any celebrations to mark the occasion this year they will be muted.

That’s because England, as a sevens side, don’t actually exist anymore as the fates – in the form of pure financial necessity – have seen the “Team Great Britain” concept that has been used in the Olympics now take root in the World Rugby Sevens Series.

It’s all about long-term strategy, with an eye on those Olympics of the future and on producing one fully competitive unit, rather than teams from England, Scotland and Wales that are struggling for funds and to be consistently competing at the business end of tournaments.

And that’s the line taken by the Rugby Football Union, when the concept was ratified back in July, who said the move would “embrace this new era in the World Series moving forward”.

“It is the right way forward, giving Team GB a real opportunity to go to the Olympic Games with the right preparation, to compete on a level playing field with other sevens programmes and most importantly enables us all to give certainty to staff and players as to the future of the programme,” RFU performance director Conor O’Shea told the British Olympics team’s official website.

“We will be working hard … to finalise the structures to support GB so we are ready to start the 2023 World Rugby Sevens Series with a bang moving towards Paris 2024 and beyond.”

No word yet – at the time of writing – of the exact make-up of Team Great Britain for this year’s tournament here in Hong Kong, but the general consensus is that the realities of a demanding international rugby schedule across all forms of the game have been met.

Former captain Ollie Phillips was part of what could well now be the last-ever England team to win the Hong Kong Sevens – back in 2006 when they edged out Fiji 26-24 in a thriller, with the great Ben Gollings scoring a try to tie the match and converting to win after the siren had sounded for full-time.

He believes setting up Team GB as an ongoing concern – not just when the Olympics loom – was a matter of necessity.

“If I put my Olympics hat on, I think it’s what’s needed from a GB perspective because I think you’re totally hamstringing everybody by sort of saying ‘you’ve got six weeks to prepare to go to an Olympic Games as Team GB having never played together’, when every other team – South Africa, Fiji, New Zealand – have been working for four years building towards it,” Phillips said.

Source: South China Morning Post

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