For Sam Pointon, Head Coach of the 1st XV and Sports Performance Analyst at Rugby School, the Rosslyn Park Sevens tournament holds a special place in his heart.
“It is where some of my best sporting memories were made,” says the coach, who is an Old Rugbeian himself. “I just think it is the place where any school boy rugby player first gets a taste for top quality sport.
“The sheer scale of the tournament, playing in front of large crowds and a podium to play on – that is an incredible experience and a huge step along any players’ learning curve.”
Rugby School has been a regular competitor at the Rosslyn Park Sevens for years and has three titles under its belt since the tournament’s inception in 1939. Recent times have not resulted in any titles for the school where the sport is said to have been born, but this year Pointon has high hopes.
“We are preparing well, working hard in training and we are on the way. We have some tournaments coming up which will allow us to to build and our aim is to get to the second day as a minimum. But I think we can get near the final and that would be a fantastic achievement for us.”
Pointon himself is a strong advocate for rugby sevens. He says it gives players the space and freedom to be creative and explore ways to score. “There are seven players in the exact same space as you would find 15 players in a normal game, this means it offers the players the space and freedom to be creative. Let’s face it, in any game, the most exciting aspects are the skilful moments and the try-scoring moments. That is why sevens for me is so exciting.”
However, it is not all about attacking. Pointon says rugby sevens allows the players to develop all-round skills, including the technical aspects of good, solid defence and the vision to identify and use space. And of course, it is great for players’ fitness levels.
So important is rugby sevens in Rugby School’s sporting calendar that the traditional games afternoon now focuses on preparation for sevens. The U18 squad, plus talented U16 players, are invited to train during games afternoon in the Lent (Jan to March) term. Until three years ago, at this time of year, all the pupils played hockey or, if they were in Year 10 and above could choose soccer as an option. This innovation gives the coaching staff the luxury of far more time with their squad in the run-up to Rosslyn Park.
“We used to just train after school, once a week in the lead-up to Rosslyn Park,” says Pointon. “But the RP7s is now the pinnacle of the season, and we train properly for it.”
This includes pre-hab, which involves 20 minutes of work helping the players to prepare their bodies and minds for the load of the actual training session. There is also time devoted to strength and conditioning work and, one of Sam’s areas of specialist knowledge – match analysis.
“Once we start getting more footage from our fixtures and training, we will be using Coach Logic for video analysis with the sevens players,” says Pointon. “We will then have analysis sessions before and after training and we can also send out clips for the players to look at in their own time.”
Pointon is keen for the pupils to develop their skills of analysis, as he sees it as a valuable aid in the learning process. “I like the boys to take a fair bit of ownership during training sessions. That is very much the way that coaching is moving. Coach Logic, as a platform, aligns with that approach.
“I want to avoid a situation where the players sit in a room for 30 minutes listening to me rambling on, that is just not effective. Rather, I will show a clip and get a discussion going. I know the answer I want to get to, but I use questions and discussion so the boys eventually get there by themselves. I want them to be self-critical and analyse themselves, that is crucial to their understanding and learning.”
As well as the group sessions, before or after training, the coach will also clip a game and send it to his players. But it is not spoon-fed to the students – they are also expected to clip bits of the match for themselves. During the first part of the season, 15s matches are published on the Coach Logic Video Room and the boys are then tasked with delivering an analysis session. After a few weeks of this approach, Pointon is able to step back and the students run the analysis themselves.
Of course, analysis is not for everyone and Pointon is aware that not all his players respond to analysis in the same way. “I recognise that people learn in different ways, and some will use analysis more naturally than others. But this is an important tool in the learning process.”
Pointon is also keen to keep a consistent feed of players coming through the ranks. His top U16s train with the U18s, learning all aspects of the game, including preparation, recovery and effective analysis. This will be invaluable knowledge when the next cohort of young players come through the ranks. Sevens rugby is part of that process, with four U16s currently training with the sevens squad that will be competing at Rosslyn Park.
“That means that next year those players will have had experience of training with the U18s as well as playing some of the low level sevens tournaments,” explains Pointon. “We had a friendly (Sevens) tournament just a short while ago and some of our U16s really shone out, just because they had been training with our senior lads.”
For Pointon, both as a player and as a coach, Rosslyn Park Sevens has an invaluable role to play in preparing youngsters for top flight rugby. “It’s not just the match play and competition,” he says. “At the tournament they are exposed to new ideas. There are loads of stalls, so last year the boys visited a stand selling compression clothing, which was a new idea to them. They got to try Watt Bikes, so they really do see how to recover well and how to look after yourself.
“This is exposure to the top end of professional sport and that can really draw the boys in and their ambitions go up a step.”