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Interview: England Sevens captain Tom Mitchell

Sports Mole talks to England Sevens captain Tom Mitchell about the season so far, the fast-approaching Rio Olympics and the prospect of captaining a Great Britain team.

With the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro just over a year away now, it is fast approaching crunch time for many of the athletes hoping to be involved in the biggest sporting event on the planet.

The opportunity is perhaps greater in Rugby Sevens than any other this year, with the sport being introduced to the Games for the first time ever in Brazil next summer.

Interest and excitement around Sevens has rocketed since it was voted in, with the current World Series tournament acting as the first stage of the qualification process.

Just past the halfway stage of the series, England currently sit fifth in the rankings, one spot adrift of the final automatic qualification place for Rio.

There are still four legs and plenty of points up for grabs, however, and with that in mind, Sports Mole caught up with England skipper Tom Mitchell to discuss how the season has gone so far, their hopes for the rest of the campaign and the prospect of captaining a Great Britain side in Brazil.

Tom Mitchell in action during the England Sevens Squad Announcement for the Commonwealth Games on July 9, 2014© Getty Images

We're just past the halfway stage in the World Series now with England sitting fifth. How do you feel the season has gone so far?

"It's been a bit of an up-and-down one this season. We started off well in Australia but were disappointed with our performances in Dubai and South Africa.

"That wasn't quite what we wanted to achieve, but then we did really well in the group to work hard in the training block after that and came back after the last trip with a couple of good performances in Wellington and Las Vegas.

"We've carried some momentum from that trip into training at the moment and everyone has knuckled down and is working really hard. Hopefully some of that momentum will carry us through to [the next tournament in] Hong Kong."

Commonwealth champions South Africa currently lead the way, closely followed by New Zealand and Fiji. Do you think that there is a gulf in class between those three teams and the chasing pack at the moment?

"I think over the last couple of years during the Sevens season we've seen that the teams are grouped a lot tighter together in general. There are no easy wins anymore and all the teams are competing.

"New Zealand, South Africa and Fiji have all shown that they can perform really well on the World Series this season, but so have a lot of other teams as well.

"At this stage of the season, everyone is obviously assessing where they're at. There is a lot to play for with four tournaments coming up and I think it's quite early on to be second-guessing things."

Those top three all have at least one tournament win under their belts already. How important is it for you to get one?

"For us as players it is always something that you want to do. Part of the reason why we play the game is to go out there and win every game and try to win tournaments.

"The dream for a Sevens player is to go out there in an England shirt and win a tournament for England. The way of doing that and what we're doing as a group is to focus on things in hand.

"At the moment that's training, but then we'll be focusing on our first game in Hong Kong. If we can look after things as they come along then the tournament win should take care of itself."

And what are the team's goals for the remainder of the season, is it simply to get into that top four or do you see yourself challenging the leading pack?

"Our aim as a team, as it has been all season, is to improve on where we were last year and then to continue moving throughout the season to improve on previous tournaments. That will continue right through to the end.

"The Olympic qualification factor is a great one for us this year. When it was announced at the start of the season it was a real honour for us to take that on and have that privilege of being the qualification team, and one that the boys all enjoyed.

"But we all said at the start of the season that we'd approach each tournament as it came and focus on the job in hand, and I think that's the best way for us to get success."

During qualifying for the Olympics you are representing England, but at the Games themselves you would be representing Great Britain. What are your thoughts on mixing in with the other Home Nations?

"It's the way it was always going to be for the Olympics. For those involved it will be a huge honour to represent Great Britain in the Olympics, it would be an amazing thing to be part of.

"Obviously it is something that will be new to the Sevens game, and the details of that are yet to be released, but I think for those players involved it will be an amazing opportunity to go out there and play at what will be the pinnacle for the sport."

And as captain of England, you would surely be in the reckoning for the job with GB too. How exciting a prospect is that for you?

"The prospect of something like that is incredibly exciting - it's the stuff you dream about when you're younger as a kid. Every time I'm able to go out and lead the guys in an England shirt it's a real privilege and an honour and not something I take lightly.

"But, in terms of the GB stuff, it's still a fair way off and there are a lot of unknowns there so it's not actually something I've thought about at this stage at all. There's a lot in the much closer future to occupy us at the moment."

That includes the Hong Kong leg of the World Series later this month. How is the team feeling ahead of that challenge?

"Yeah, Hong Kong is an amazing one, it's always really exciting to play there. It's one of the tournaments that everyone has heard about and there's always a great crowd. We always get a lot of support out there as an England team as well, which is amazing.

"We're very lucky to have England supporters around the world that get behind us and give us that extra boost, so we're all looking forward to that. It's a really historic tournament, full of tradition, and it's great to be a part of.

"And there is a lot of confidence in the group at the moment. We've been working really hard and we've got a few guys coming back from injuries that could really bolster the squad and make competition for places tough, so that can only lead to good things."

You've been named in a group with Wales, Kenya and USA - a relatively kind draw considering you have already beaten the latter two on more than one occasion on the circuit this season...

"It's a dangerous trap to fall into there. There are no easy games on the World Series this year. It was the same last year - teams are always improving and you've got to be on your game.

"That's what we're doing, working hard to make sure that we're working harder than anyone else in the world and making those improvements that we need to make. I think that will stand us in good stead, no matter what the opposition is. So we're confident that we can do well there."

To get tickets for the Marriott London Sevens at Twickenham on the May 16-17, go to http://www.englandrugby.com/marriottlondonsevens

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Head coach Simon Amor of England looks out to the crowd during the Wellington Sevens at Westpac Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand
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