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WTC's Interview with Chris Cracknell

Chris Cracknell has been part of the England Rugby Sevens squad for over 30 IRB Series tournaments. He talks with Which Training Camp about this season's tournaments, the lead up to the Commonwealth Games and explains today's tactics and how the squads train.




Chris, welcome back from your recent Sevens Tournaments in Japan and Hong Kong. Two tournaments over consecutive weekends. You beat New Zealand in Japan but then they beat you in the Hong Kong final.

Which Training Camp - The Head to Head results between England and New Zealand have been close, one tournament you beat them, the next they beat you. Is that down to getting the preparation right?

Chris Cracknell - In Sevens there are a lot of uncontrollables. You can try and control the ball, keep the ball and have 90% possession but 2 wrong bounces of the ball and you’ve lost the game. You have to beat New Zealand at the break down and keep them from having the ball.

To control things on the pitch each individual player needs to get a skill absolutely right in a millisecond which will then enable the other 6 players to be in their correct positions for when the ball is released.

The beauty of Sevens is that every player needs to have the ability to pass, tackle, run good lines, have good defensive breakdown skills and be creative when attacking all at a high standard.

That’s why NZL have been good all these years. They do the basics well and are consistent.


WTC - Each Nation now appears to have its own professional Sevens squad. Are the players all Sevens specialists or do some Nations use Sevens as a way of giving players experience?  

CC - How the Squads are made up has changed over the years. It wasn’t so long ago all the squads were Sevens specialists. Now the bigger nations have about 6-8 Sevens specialists in their squad, the others being younger players coming in to learn their trade before moving to higher things in the 15 game.

For some nations like Spain, Portugal & Fiji, it’s not about a development pathway, it’s their main game. All the teams in the Worlds series are full time professional athletes. 


WTC - How does the RFU pick the Sevens players?

CC - The academies will look at their players and they may have someone who has good ball skills but needs to build their body weight or fitness levels. Or they may have someone who needs to improve his basic skills. These players will be considered for the Sevens squad as a means of improving their all-round performance.

Apart from the IRB World Series, you have a lot of invitational sides playing tournaments. A Head Coach from one of these teams could contact the RFU and suggest they look at one of their players.

Sevens is ever evolving so there is no one way to find a player. 


WTC - Sevens you play two 7 minute halfs and play 3 games on each of the tournament’s two days. What are the fitness differences between Sevens and 15-a-side?

CC - Sevens is about repeat speed. In the 15-a-side game there is a lot more attrition, you could spend 3 or 4 minutes going round the corner or moving side to side, not gaining many metres. In Sevens that round the corner could be a 70 metre sprint and back again. It’s about constantly running at a high tempo. 15-a-side you have time to recover during scrums, penalty kicks or line outs. But in Sevens there is no respite.

No matter whether you’re a 80 kg winger or a 110 kg forward, you’ve all got to be able to run 80 metre flat out in one direction, turn and probably run 80 metres back again and all at over 100 metres per minute.


WTC - What do you do in terms of training?

CC - Lots of high intensity top ups which could be on the Wattbike or running. This would involve a lot of interval work like 2:1 where the 2 is the work and the 1 is the recovery.

We do most of our training, high intensity top ups, field practice, weights, gym work etc over a 7 minute period which mimics what goes on in a Sevens game.

WTC- How is the training structured between tournaments?

CC - The first week is usually off so we can recover from the matches and the travelling. We then have a 4 week block of high intensity work which is like pre-season winter training. If a player is injured they will work to their own program.

This is followed by two weeks where the pace comes right off, making sure that no one breaks down and we are in full health come the next tournament.

Usually we’ll have two key sessions per week. These would be Tuesday which has a high intensity fitness focus and Thursday which would be a high intensity full contact session. As the season goes on this may taper off as the bodies may start to break down.


WTC - Your standard IRB World Series is 9 tournaments one of which is played at Twickenham. The other tournaments are away from home. How do you prepare for such an overwhelming number of away fixtures?

CC - We are fortunate that Hong Kong and Dubai seem like home fixtures because of the huge ex-pat community that come to support us. We get as much support there as we do at Twickenham.

But each venue has its own environment. When you play in New Zealand the home crowd will only support New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa, and any team who is playing against either England or Australia.

When you play in South Africa, the South Africans will only support their own team and New Zealand.

But you learn from experience that you can’t control the crowd. You have to be able to switch on and off over the 6 games of the tournament so when you come out to play you’re focused on your first involvement in the game, whether it be your first tackle, first scrum, first catch or first ball carry.

It’s about what you can control and then channel any negatives back into your performance.


WTC - Do you hear the crowd if you’re focused on the game?

CC - With rugby you’ll usually go out on the pitch before the game to warm up, so you’ll get a snippet of what’s in store for you. The warm up areas will be close to the crowds because there will be another match in progress.

You’ll go back into the changing room, play a tune or whatever helps get you up for the game and then you’ll go back out again. Once you’re back out the crowd is a little bit further away. You’ll also find the crowd would suddenly be distracted by another team warming up or even a streaker running across the pitch.  

In Las Vegas you warm up on a 5 square metre plot next to the car park lit by a light and generator, and then you run out to play in front of 30,000 people.



WTC- Where is the England Sevens squad based?

CC - We are now based at the Lensbury Club which has been developed into our own personalised training facilities. We practice our field skills here, we have some office space for video analysis, briefings etc and we have our testing facilities.

We have been to Bath University occasionally for testing and a change in scenery.

We use the gym at RFU Twickenham. This is also used by the 15-a-side team, U20’s and women’s teams but the Sevens squad are the only ones who use this gym regularly.


WTC - What type of testing do you do?

CC - We have several tests which will include a Wattbike test, a fitness running test, a jump test and a 1 RM test.

We use the Wattbike to see how long it takes to cover the set 3 km distance which gives us a measure of our endurance. The Repeat Speed test will tell us how far and how fast we can continually run before lactate stops us running any further.

Each player will then know the speed he needs to run at for certain sessions. Some sessions we will all work to the same time so our target distances will vary.  I may be given 80 metres to run whilst some of the quick guys would be given say 90 metres. In the summer we did a lot of “200 metre” runs, where I was given 192 and the quick guys were given 201 metres, but the times it took us to cover our given distance would be the same.


WTC - Are audience levels increasing for Sevens?

CC - Globally it is one of the fastest growing sports. It is growing fast because it’s high octane, high impact and has loads of trys. It’s all the great things about rugby in a short period of time.

It’s a great summer weekend spectacle. Last year 120,000 came to Twickenham which was a world record so far, the ticket sales are going well and could top 80,000 for each of the 2 days.



WTC - Are player’s minds turning towards the Commonwealth Games later this year?

CC - For us the Commonwealth Games is a huge goal. I’ve been lucky to be involved in 2 Commonwealth Games cycles and having it in the UK will be special. A lot of us will not get the opportunity again to compete in another Games in the UK.

Once the IRB series is over, the whole focus will be about that one tournament in July. For us the Games is a major one off event which we would like to win.



2013-14 England compete in 9 events,
Gold Coast (AUS) 12/13 Oct 2013, won 3rd place v RSA 47-0
Dubai 29/30 Nov 2013, lost 3rd place v NZL 17-14
Port Elizabeth 7/8 Dec 2013, 3rd in group only
Las Vegas 24/26 Jan 2014, won plate v AUS 26-24
Wellington 7/8 Feb 2014, lost 3rd place to Fiji 7-14
Tokyo 22/23 Mar 2014, won 3rd place v NZL 21-12
Hong Kong 28/30 Mar 2014, lost Final v NZL 26-7
Glasgow 3/4 May 2014
London 10/11 May 2014

Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, July 2014.





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