It was all change for England today with a new home and a new squad.
The new home has been trailed for some months, but now the Rugby Football Union has formally announced that it is to integrate its women's and men’s sevens programmes at a single location,
The England squad – currently based at Bisham Abbey in Buckinghamshire – is to move 30 miles east, down the Thames to The Lensbury Club in Teddington, where it will join the men at England's High Performance Centre.
Although in the short term it will be an upheaval for players who have accommodation near where their current training location is, the RFU is positive about the move which they say will create a "strong culture and identity" and allow the squads to "share facilities and best practice".
"The men and women can learn so much from each other," said Simon Amor, head of England Sevens and men's head coach. "This sharing of knowledge is so important to us as we continue to challenge each other to be the very best that we can be."
The 2018-19 season is crucial as it is the start of the qualifying process for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with England’s results – in the absence of any other home countries in the World Series – likely to again be the deciding factor in whether or not Great Britain will qualify.
Assuming the Tokyo qualifying matches that for Rio, the top four teams from this year’s World Series will qualify automatically, along with the hosts (Japan), one team from each of the six regions (Europe, North America & Caribbean, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania), and the winner of a repecharge for teams who just missed out on regional qualifying.
England will be seeking to significantly improve their sevens performances this season after a difficult 2017-18 which brought them Commonwealth bronze, but only 8th place in the World Series, a first round exit in the World Cup, and fourth place in the first leg of the European Championship.
If qualification had been based on last season’s results, the 11 qualifiers before the repecharge would have been Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Canada, Russia, United States, Brazil, Kenya, China and Fiji – with England battling for the final spot alongside Ireland, Spain and 13 other teams from around the world.
The women’s squad will move from its present base at Bisham Abbey to join the men’s set-up at The Lensbury in Teddington from 1 September. This will provide both the men’s and women’s squads the opportunity to share facilities and best practice.
To coincide with the announcement of their new training home, the new England squad who will have to take on this challenge has also been announced
Ten of the 17 players squad are retained from last season, including Emily Scarratt, Heather Fisher, Natasha Hunt, Abbie Brown and Claire Allan who all represented Team GB at the Rio 2016, plus Megan Jones, Alex Matthews, Deborah Fleming and Jess Breach.
There are seven new names include 18-year-old Ellie Kildunne, who makes the transition from 15s, plus Lizzie Adam and Celia Quanash (who made their England debuts in the first leg of the 2018 European Championship), Emma Uren (who captained England Women U20 last season), and Abi Burton, Emma Hardy and Helena Rowland, who have all progressed through the performance pathway to the squad having represented England in age grade teams.
England coach James Bailey said: “There’s a real excitement about the squad and confidence in this talented group of players. What we have looked at is bringing together a group who will allow us to play a unique style of sevens. While we have a number of experienced names, we have some talented athletes who started their sporting careers outside of rugby.
“There are a huge number of positive opportunities that await us this season, especially as we move to the Lensbury where we will be able to share best practice between ourselves and the men’s team, building on the existing links and creating a closer alliance between the two squads.”
The squad’s first challenge comes this weekend with the second leg of the European Championship in Kazan
Bailey added: “This season is going to be a huge but incredible challenge and is undoubtedly going to be the most competitive season yet in the women’s game. Our priority is Olympic qualification, and while there’s still a lot of work to be done, we know what’s required and we’re fully embracing it.”
Reflecting on England’s ninth place finish in the Rugby World Cup Sevens, where England won the Challenge trophy, he said: “We knew what we had to do going into the World Cup and failed to deliver. There were a number of challenges last season which we will look to address. We had a number of injuries which made it difficult to keep the squad consistent. We will be working hard to try to mitigate this as well as build on the many positives we took away from the year.”
Vicky Fleetwood, Olivia Jones, Katie Mason, Sarah McKenna, Chantelle Miell, Emily Scott, Kelly Smith, Lydia Thompson, Amy Wilson Hardy and Millie Wood have left England Women's Sevens with Bailey adding: “We’d like to thank those who have left the programme for their contribution to the programme and wish them the very best for the future.”
Five of the 17 players will continue their studies alongside rugby commitments. Ellie Kildunne (St Mary’s University, Twickenham), Lizzie Adam (Loughborough University), Emma Hardy (Loughborough University), Helena Rowland (Loughborough University) and Emma Uren (St Mary’s University, Twickenham) will all study part-time as well as taking up squad contracts.
England Sevens Squad: Lizzie Adam*, Holly Aitchison, Claire Allan, Jess Breach, Abbie Brown, Abi Burton*, Heather Fisher, Deborah Fleming, Emma Hardy*, Natasha Hunt, Megan Jones, Ellie Kildunne*, Alex Matthews, Celia Quansah*, Helena Rowland*, Emily Scarratt, Emma Uren*
*new to squad