DUBAI // Paul Treu, the South Africa coach, has labelled England the team to beat at this weekend's World Cup Sevens, but warned Tom Varndell the game has moved on since he dominated competitions four seasons ago. England and the Springboks are tied at the top of the International Rugby Board (IRB) World Series standings, and contested the final of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens back in November.
However, Varndell's recall, for the first time since the Commonwealth Games in 2006, has given England's Melrose Cup credentials a telling boost. The Leicester Tigers winger thrived during his first spell in the shorter version of the game, with the wide open spaces making his searing pace difficult to defend against. Difficult, but not impossible, according to Treu. "I think it is possible [to stop him]," he said. "We always say a player can beat a player one on one, but you can't beat a line or a system.
"What will be important is to close him as quickly as possible and to get more numbers into his channel." Varndell lit up the Dubai Exiles when England won the Emirates International Trophy in 2005 in his debut tournament. He announced his arrival by scoring a length-of-the-field try with his first touch of the ball against Kenya, and ended as the competition's leading try-scorer. Stunned observers, and even experienced teammates such as Ben Gollings, the IRB Sevens' leading point scorer, lauded him as "the fastest player we have seen on a rugby field".
Meanwhile, Mike Friday, the then England coach, likened the immediate impact he had on the seven-man code to that of stars like Jonah Lomu and Joe Rokocoko. "It was the same with New Zealand when they had Victor Vito," added Treu. "It seems to me that a team succeeds when they have a very good winger doing well. "England did well with Varndell, a New Zealand did well with Vito, now we are doing well with Robert Ebersohn on the wing.
"It shows you how important it is to have a quality winger out there who, when you throw him the ball, can just score tries from nothing. "When Tom Varndell came in a few years ago, he was a total unknown. Now the other teams have all stepped up their games, even the developing countries like Portugal and USA. "More teams are playing at a higher level, and I don't think one player will be able to make such a big difference in this coming tournament."
Treu, whose side place great emphasis of defence, reckons England are the most offensively-minded side in sevens. "England have put their faith in their attack," he added. "We saw that in the final [in November] when we were up and they came back. They were down 17-0 in the final in Wellington and still came back. "Their defence is good, but I don't think they put their focus on it. They want to attack and they have been exceptionally successful recently.
"When Ben Ryan [the England coach] took over he inherited a squad of players that maybe didn't fit the way he wanted to play the game, and what he believed in as a person. "Then he started to turn things around and brought in quite a few youngsters. He kept Ben Gollings for his experience, and brought back Ollie Phillips, who has been awesome this season. "They have played in four finals, and there is a different type of urgency in their team now. They have been tremendous over the last few months and they are going to be the team to beat."