x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

England's Barden has big shoes to fill

Greg Barden has been given the captain's armband once worn by Ben Gollings, the former England stalwart who parted ways with the team this summer.

Greg Barden is being asked by England coach Ben Ryan to step in and fill the former captain's shoes of stalwart Ben Gollings, who parted ways with the team over the summer.
Greg Barden is being asked by England coach Ben Ryan to step in and fill the former captain's shoes of stalwart Ben Gollings, who parted ways with the team over the summer.

 

DUBAI // When Ben Gollings and England parted company for what appeared to be the final time this summer, it was not just the reigning Dubai champions who had to start over.

The organisers of the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens had to busily source some new artwork, given that the England playmaker and captain has been the poster boy of this tournament for as long as most people can remember.

The same things goes for the World Sevens Series as a whole.

When Waisale Serevi, the Fijian great, finally ended the last of many comebacks in the game, Gollings assumed his standing as Mr Sevens.

And even when he was not officially here, he was not far away - England won the first of back-to-back titles in 2004 without him but he was still able to join the party, as he was playing in the International Invitational competition that year.

That was the first of many absences he had from the England team, but he was back the following year to lead England's defence of their title at the Exiles.

With 2,652 series points to his name - almost exactly double that of next best, Serevi - Gollings will be conspicuous by his absence here.

"It was very difficult," said Ben Ryan, the England coach, of the split with his former general.

"He has been in and out of the sevens team for 10 years now. But it is a new chapter now and there are new guys ready to fill his shoes.

"The world hasn't ended because Ben has left the team. It is just evolving."

While Christian Lewis-Pratt, who will make his world series debut today, has been lined up to assume the playmaker role in the side, the captain's armband has been passed on to Greg Barden.

They may be sizeable boots to fill, but Barden has faced far more significant challenges in the past, having spent the past 14 years as a marine. His last tour of duty was to Iraq in 2006, and he officially discharged from the military this year to take up one of England's 12 professional sevens contracts.

"I didn't want to be pulled two different ways," Barden, 30, said.

"I just wanted to concentrate on the sevens because of the way it has gone, [with sides employing more full-time sevens players] I wanted to focus on it rather than be a jack of all trades."

Ryan said his new captain is a ready-made leader.

"He doesn't necessarily say a lot, but when he does, everybody listens," the coach said.

"He has a military background which has taught him to make clear and direct decisions under pressure.

"He is the big brother of the team - the boys really respect him and he was a natural choice for lots of good reasons."

 

pradley@thenational.ae