«You can think right, OK, I’ll be working at 110 percent so that when you’re working at 95 percent you can make good decisions and you can make the right choices and stuff like that,» England forward Phil Burgess tells CNN. «Our coaches work together to create those sessions that allow us to train at that level so that when we get on the field of play we can perform and make those good decisions and make those good plays.» The challenge, then, is as much mental as it is physical. This is where the yo-yo test comes in, even the mention of which is enough to make England’s sevens players shudder. «When you find out you’re going to do the yo-yo it’s like, oh, gosh.
There’s always that sinking feeling in your stomach,» winger Dan Norton tells CNN. «When it gets dark, it gets pretty dark.» Some plastic cones and a tape recording are all that are required to summon this world of pain. Participants have to run two 20-meter shuttles in time with a beep, with a 10-second rest between efforts. As the levels progress, the speed increases until the legs and lungs can take no more.
A civilian with a decent level of fitness might manage to get to about level 15, but England’s players are expected to get over 19. Some of them even breeze past that. «I think my best has been around 21 or 21.2,» says Norton, rugby sevens’ all-time record try-scorer. The best I’ve seen is probably like a 22.2, 22.5 … One guy, John Brake, he used to play sevens and seemed to have two hearts.
He could get round about that level. « Players will end up pushing themselves to an aerobic limit they would rarely achieve during a match, which reaps rewards. »It’s kind of a similar state you’re in when you’re playing the whole time,« explains Norton. »There’s always that cloud of fatigue and your decision making is impaired, your vision’s impaired, and you’re feeling a bit dizzy.
«But that kind of makes the whole thing so much more enjoyable — knowing that you can still produce the goods at those levels as well.» Dan Norton shows his speed at last year’s Paris Sevens. After the yo-yo test comes carrying and wrestling exercises. These can be done with weights, but the England Sevens coaches often have players use each other to perform the drills, replicating as closely as possible the tackle situation in games. The tactic, says Burgess, is to go all out from the start and try to hang on until the bitter end.
Staring at the digital display through a haze of fatigue and willing the numbers towards the kilometer mark is the definition of suffering. « You don’t want to be that one person who’s missing out on something.» England Sevens’ Jamie Barden carries teammate Norton under the instruction of Phil Burgess. The players will be hoping that their brutal fitness regime — and all the camaraderie that comes with it — will pay dividends when they run out on home soil at the London Sevens this weekend.
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