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Amor Eyes Fifth Hong Kong Title

06/04/2017 10:49

Simon Amor knows precisely what is required to prevail in the Hong Kong Sevens, perennially the most-coveted prize on the circuit. England have won at the sport's mecca on four occasions, in a golden five-year spell between 2002 and 2006; Amor, now the country's head coach, starred as the playmaker in each success, and even skippered the side in their last triumph 11 years ago.

On the eve of the 42nd edition, which kicks off this Friday, the former scrum-half, who has been in charge for four years, is optimistic that England will reign in Hong Kong once more. And the 37-year-old has good reason to be upbeat.

England, never before crowned HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions, currently sit second in the table with only four of the 10 rounds of this season remaining. Hitherto Amor has been fortunate with a lack of serious injuries to his players, and consistency in selection has been richly rewarded. Indeed, he used the same 12-man squad for the first five tournaments (believed to be a world record), and England have chalked up two competition wins - equal to the number of victories achieved in the previous four campaigns - in Cape Town and, on the most recent leg, Vancouver.

"Having the same group of experienced players has helped us considerably, and allowed us to really develop our game," acknowledges Amor. "And now, on the back of winning in Vancouver, we're in a good place for Hong Kong. So fingers crossed we can start well, maintain that level, keep injury free, and have enough left in the tank to finish strongly. If we can achieve that, with the way we are playing at the moment, we'll give ourselves a good chance of success.

"Hong Kong is the tournament everyone wants to win. It's such a special place, and the spiritual home of sevens. I cherish the memories of the four times I won there as a player. It would be amazing if England can do it this time; I really think we can."

Ahead of the Hong Kong jamboree, the seventh round of the Sevens Series, England have amassed 103 points, already 11 more than last season's total. They are 23 points behind runaway leaders South Africa, who have, quite incredibly, featured in every final this campaign, and won four of them. And while the Blitzboks look untouchable in the race for the overall title, should England face Neil Powell's side in Hong Kong they will draw confidence from being the only team to have vanquished them this season - as they have done twice, claiming silverware on both occasions.

"South Africa are a brilliant outfit," Amor continues, "and to be honest I don't know if they can be caught now. Having said that, sevens is both a beautiful and cruel sport, in that you get a tiny bit of momentum one day, one game, and the next thing you know it's gone. They've been brilliant this campaign, though, I'd be surprised if they weren't brilliant until the end of the season.To make six finals in a row is absolutely phenomenal.

"They are superb at the breakdown, have an incredible knack of turning you over and scoring, and are a difficult team to beat when they get it right - and they have got it right against us a few times recently.

"We play in a similar style to South Africa, and neither team is packed with the biggest players on the circuit. There are a few holes, but it's up to the England players to work out how to unpick them. They will punish you if you get it wrong, so it's an interesting tactical intelligence challenge."

If England do manage to go all the way in Hong Kong this weekend it will provide more proof that Amor has matured in to the head coach the Rugby Football Union dreamed he would he when he was hastily appointed in September 2013. The Cambridge University graduate excelled as an on-pitch tactician, and was even named the inaugural world sevens player of the year in 2002, yet when he succeeded Ben Ryan, who departed in acrimony, his coaching experience was limited to stints in charge of London Scottish and the women's sevens team.

After a steady start, he is now enjoying a purple patch. In the first two campaigns with Amor at the helm England ended fourth in the Sevens Series; the second, in 2015, secured Great Britain's qualification to the Olympics last year, when the sport made its impressive Games debut. Then came a lowly eighth-place finish last term, although there were mitigating circumstances: Amor had been tasked with the additional - and weighty - responsibility of being Great Britain's head coach at the Olympics and so had an eye on selection for Rio de Janeiro; and he employed a squad-rotation policy to keep his star English players fresh for the Games.

It paid off, handsomely. Team GB won their first five matches - including a 7-5 semi-final win against many pundits' favourites South Africa - to reach the last two at the Deodoro Stadium. Their final opponents Fiji, led by Ben Ryan, played the "most perfect game of sevens I've ever seen", according to defeated captain and playmaker Tom Mitchell, and dominated 43-7. But there was no shame in finishing second on the podium, which was more than most expected, considering that Great Britain's squad was at a distinct disadvantage to others having been assembled just weeks before Rio.

Victory number five for Amor in Hong Kong this weekend will further enhance his growing reputation, and given the form his confident team are in few would bet against England triumphing once again.

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