Wales Sevens: The hope and the glory(IRB.COM) Monday 24 June 2013
Four years ago Wales coach Paul John led a promising young team of 80-1 outsiders to Rugby World Cup Sevens glory. It's an unavoidable opening gambit in any pre-tourmament chat this time around.
"It's in the back of our minds," admitted John in his usual understated way. "We're trying to treat this as just another tournament, but the title defence is an added incentive that the boys are aware of, and as a World Cup it's a special occasion anyway."
John exudes a quiet confidence in Moscow, a city he knows well having brought development squads here on the FIRA European circuit.
The majority of his core group of players is fit and raring to go under captain Adam Thomas and there is an unmistakable degree of experience there. That, in turn, should mean they gel quickly in Russia at the end of a promising season in which they reached a first ever World Series Cup final in Hong Kong.
"We're the defending champions, but mostly we take confidence from a few of the tournaments we've played this season, notably in Hong Kong. That was a great tournament for us and hopefully it gives the boys that confidence that they can kick on to the next level."
Lee Williams is the sole survivor from those famous feats of four years ago. Williams has played for the Scarlets and is joined in the squad by 11 others who have played most of their rugby in the semi-professional Principality Premiership, which underpins the Welsh regions competing in the Rabo Direct and Heineken Cup competitions.
"Lee is an experienced voice within our squad, and that experience will hopefully count for a lot at the weekend," added John.
Since their success four years ago, Sevens has steadily been growing in profile within Wales. It may still rank far beneath the senior national and regional 15-a-side set-ups but under the guidance of Joe Lydon, who has recently moved back to the RFU, there has been a concerted effort to cultivate a culture of both development and performance from the elite senior Sevens side, while also setting up more tournaments at grass root level, including in schools.
That duel thrust of development and performance is at the heart of John's work, and he and his management team are passionate about hitting the right balance.
Development and Performance
"I think players are starting to choose paths now and Sevens is an accelerator. You've seen that with Alex Cuthbert and also Rhys Patchell, Harry Robinson and Justin Tipuric. It is a development tool, but at the same time you have to look at the performance at the highest level as well. A double-edged sword if you like," added John.
There are small margins between success and failure in Sevens, and the World Cup-winning coach will need no reminder of that this weekend when his team lines up against Fiji, Tonga and Uruguay in pool play. With six pools of four in the men's competition and only eight quarter final places up for grabs, the brutal reality is that they need three wins from three to guarantee their last eight berth.
"The biggest thing is those pool games. We've missed out on three Cup quarter finals this season on points difference and that's a lesson in itself.
"We've got to not concede tries and we've got to score seven-point tries. If you eliminate the errors, make your tackles and keep possession you score more points, simple as that.
"This weekend it's about limiting the errors, being accurate, not switching off at vital times and taking the points when they're on offer. Hopefully we're going to take that mindset into our first three games."