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Interview: England Sevens star James Rodwell

England Sevens star James Rodwell talks to Sports Mole about the ongoing World Series season, the Olympic Games in Rio and retirement.

England's James Rodwell has pretty much seen it all on the Rugby Sevens circuit, but this season is a new challenge for even him.

Next year, for the first time, Sevens will become an Olympic sport when the world's finest teams head to Brazil for the summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Rodwell is one of his country's most-capped players of all time in the format and, with England currently sitting one place adrift of the four initial qualification spots, he and his teammates have work to do to ensure their place in Rio at the first time of asking.

It has been an up-and-down campaign for Simon Amor's side so far but, with four tournaments left, Rodwell is confident that the team can push on in the upcoming months.

"The Series has been going OK I suppose. We're sitting with exactly the same number of points as we were at this stage last season," he told Sports Mole.

"We've got some guys coming back from injury now and we're looking forward to pushing on to the second half of the season, starting off in Hong Kong."

James Rodwell of England leads players onto the field during the Pool C match between England and Argentina during day one of the 2014 Hong Kong Sevens on March 28, 2014© Getty Images

Australia currently occupy the final automatic qualification berth, but Rodwell stressed that his side are focusing on improving their own game rather than having the sole aim to catch the Aussies.

Should England not qualify via the World Series, they will have another chance to get Great Britain to the Olympics when they enter the regional qualification tournaments later this year.

"Obviously [fourth place] is in people's minds and has been expressed a lot in the media with this being Olympic qualification year.

"We achieved fourth place last year and we're looking to build on our performances in each tournament and trying to improve on where we finished each one last year with the overall goal of finishing with more Series points than we did last season.

"If we can do that then the fourth place will look after itself. And if not, we'll have other opportunities to try to qualify Great Britain for the Olympics later on in the summer."

The usual suspects - South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji - currently lead the way in the standings but, with fourth place being good enough to reach Rio next summer, there have been concerns that the World Series would be devalued by doubling up as a qualification tournament.

Rodwell dismissed those claims, however, insisting that the Olympics have added an "extra edge" in the "most competitive" campaign he has been involved in.

"I guess for a lot of teams this season the target would have just been top four. There'd be a certain number of teams who are looking to win the Series, and that would be their goal knowing that if they achieved that then they would automatically qualify for the Olympics as well.

"The Olympic qualification just adds an extra edge to the series. Whether it takes away from who wins, I don't think it does. I think the season has been the most competitive series that I've certainly been involved in, in terms of the number of teams that can challenge for each tournament and then go on to win the Series.

"The top three teams are really close at the moment and at the halfway stage any of them could go on and win this season."

James Rodwell in action during the England Sevens Squad Announcement for the Commonwealth Games on July 9, 2014 in London, England© Getty Images

The Olympics are still more than a year away, but interest in Sevens has grown hugely since its introduction to the Games, a change that Rodwell has seen take shape over his long career in the sport.

"It definitely is creating a big buzz about the sport. Once it was announced as an Olympic sport it seemed a long way away, yet we're getting closer and closer each tournament we play.

"I think it would be silly to overlook the potential to participate in an Olympic Games. It will be the pinnacle of the sport, to go and represent Great Britain at such a prestigious event. The important thing for all of us is to keep performing for England.

"If we're performing at a level to get Great Britain qualified then you give yourself a chance of getting selected. It's all about performing for England and getting selected for that match squad that goes to each tournament in the short term."

The next challenge on the agenda for England is the Hong Kong leg of the World Series later this month - always a highlight on the circuit.

Rodwell is particularly excited about featuring in one of his "favourite" tournaments once again and revealed that the squad is confident going into the three-day event, with returning players handing them an extra boost.

"Hong Kong is one of my favourite tournaments. I've got some great memories there, playing in front of such an amazing crowd. The boys are really excited about the prospect of going over there and pushing on for the second half of the season.

"It's a really important stage of the season in terms of us as a squad. We've got guys who are coming back from injury who are pushing back for it, trying to get their places back, and we're almost going to be a full-strength team going out to Hong Kong."

James Rodwell of England runs in a try during the Marriot London Sevens match between England and Wales at Twickenham Stadium on May 10, 2014 in London, England© Getty Images

England have been drawn alongside fellow Home Nation Wales in the group stages of Hong Kong, while USA and Kenya complete the group.

It is a relatively kind draw on paper for Amor's side, who have already beaten Kenya three times and USA twice on the circuit this season, but Rodwell warned that there are "no easy games" in the World Series and stressed that England would need to be at their best to qualify for the cup quarter-finals.

"Hong Kong brings the added challenge in that the tournament is spread over three days, so the first day you just play one group game and then the second day you play the other two group games, and then you go on to the knockouts and the final day. The tournament is more drawn out than others.

"In terms of the draw that we've been given, there are no easy games in Sevens at all. You've got to be performing at your best just to get out of your group these days, so we'll be looking to take it one game at a time and just focus on that first game against Wales on the Friday night. Then we'll be looking to build on our performances as we progress through the tournament."

While keen to focus on short-term goals, Rodwell's current contract with the team runs out in 2016, and it could be the case that the Olympics serve as a final hurrah for one of England's greatest servants.

However, the forward has not entertained the thought of retiring just yet, insisting that he is keen to play on as long as he is meeting the standards expected of him by both England and himself.

"I'm taking it one step at a time. My contract runs until 2016 at the moment. I'll have to assess and see how everything is feeling, if I'm still playing at a level that I'm happy with and pushing myself and England still want me then I'll continue to play for as long as I can.

"It's such an amazing sport to be involved in, and the speed that it is growing is phenomenal. It's been a great journey so far and one that I don't want to stop in the near future. I'm only looking as far as my contract runs at the moment and where we can go with that, but I haven't thought that to the end at the moment."

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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Tom Powell in action during the England Sevens Squad Announcement for the Commonwealth Games on July 9, 2014 in London, England
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