Hey it's the dynamic duo Richard Smith and Alex Walker here and we've been asked to blog on behalf of the Wales Sevens squad on our travels around the world on the HSBC World Sevens Series.
After 17 weeks of hard graft at the National Centre of Excellence (NCE) in Cardiff and a tough training camp in Middleburg, South Africa we are at our final training session before we depart for the first leg of the World Series on the Gold Coast. There are worse places to be heading to!
We feel very prepared for the series due to many gruelling hours of training over the summer with our strength and conditioning coach, Wayne Proctor. As part of this preparation we were fortunate to travel to South Africa to take part in a national tournament, in which we were narrowly beaten in the final by a strong South African team.This stands us in good stead leading into the first tournament of the series.
We have come to the end of our one week training camp at the NCE and we now embark on our journey to the other side of the world. Unfortunately it's not all glamour as we have a 35 hour flight ahead of us from London to Brisbane.
The rigorous travelling schedule is just one of the obstacles that can jeopardise your standing in the series table. With such a short time between touchdown in Australia and the start of the tournament there's a lot of responsibility on each player to ensure all recovery protocols are followed. This means plenty of stretching, massage and no napping so that the effects of jet lag are minimised.
After all that travelling we have finally arrived at our team hotel, the Crown Plaza. Even though the journey has been mammoth, once we have settled in our room we are lucky enough to have some surf lessons from some of the world's leading ironmen and women down at Burleigh Heads in Surfers Paradise.
The surf lesson was amazing! It really was a great way to get over the extensive travel schedule and also learn some new skills from the best in the world, although some were more skilled than others! The amazing backdrop of Surfers Paradise was a perfect setting to be smashed around by some legendary Aussie surf.
Day 2 on the Gold Coast and it's back to business. The setting this time is the South Port School and if Carlsberg did training pitches this would be it. Situated right on the water with pitches any groundsman would be proud of, we are going through our main session of the week. This again followed by a sea recovery session which leads to young Will Thomas losing one of the ball games, leaving him to be tea lady for the whole team for the rest of the day, Gutted!
After some lunch and a recharge at the hotel we head off to the gym for our last weights session of the week. The boys are looking good doing some functional exercises and some power work to get the bodies ready for the weekend. The remainder of the day is spent fighting off sleep and a team meeting. The boys were happy to unwind for the rest of the evening with some much needed twitter action ( @a_walker09, @smithy_rich ) and eventually get a good night's sleep.
Day 3 and the squad have been asked to do some PR at Warner Brothers Movie World and it looks like the Welsh boys have brought the weather over with them. It's raining heavily and we could easily be back home, it's only the countless number of people wearing shorts and "thongs" that reminds us we're on the Gold Coast. After a few hours waiting for the rain to settle and a couple of admissions from the larger boys in the group that they are afraid of the roller coasters, we finally got to sample what Movie World had to offer. In true rugby tradition, the food of choice is of course Nandos! Chicken all round to finish the little trip.
Day 4 and Final day before the real business starts and it's an early wake up for a team meeting before our captain's run. All the teams seem to be gearing up for the tournament and the relaxed atmosphere has transformed into a hotel full of alpha males walking around with chests puffed out trying to gain a psychological edge before the battles commence.
Day 1 of the Gold Coast sevens and it's Portugal first up. The weather is much more what you would expect from the east coast of Australia spring and it's hitting 28 degrees. We start the day with another team briefing, recapping on the analysis on each team in our pool, which was carried out earlier in the week. Once every one is clear on their roles, we head over to the training field to carry out the dreaded primer. The primer is a necessary evil that prepares the body and mind for the rigours of sevens rugby.
It's a 20 minute skills and fitness blast which takes you to some dark places, your legs fill with lactic acid and burn intensely, your lungs tighten and your breathing becomes increasingly difficult but it's necessary to get you fired up and ready to fly into your opponents. Once the primer has taken place there's an anxious wait of an hour until our first warm up of the series. Each minute feels like an eternity as you visualise the game and try to mentally prepare yourself.
During this hour the boys go through all their pre-match rituals and get any strapping or massages they need. This is an interesting time because in this tournament all the teams are in one big changing room with different sections for each of them, you can see players who you are soon going to be playing getting ready and in some cases might even be sat next to them on the spin bikes that are available to keep loose before and after games.
Through all this you must stay focused on the task at hand as it would be very easy to become distracted in this sort of environment. Switching off to some of the horrendous music played by teams (such as Canada and Samoa) becomes second nature to the more experienced sevens player. It can be like a mini music festival under one roof at times with all the teams competing to have their tunes on the loudest.
The team is announced for the first game and the boys make their way down to the warm up pitches which are about a five minute walk away. Luckily for us the stadium has golf buggies available for all the players to get to and from the warm up pitches.
Once the warm up is complete we are taken to the holding room where we put on the red jersey, all the emotions of playing for your country come flooding in. We have a pre match speech from our one and only captain Rhys Shellard. It's an emotive time with plenty of profanity and classic one liners from Shelley such as "we have got to do them in their own back doors boys" and " let's put the cherry on the icing" but when the skipper speaks everyone knows it time and the nerves turn to passion and all of the boys are ready to fly into our opponents.
We start slowly against the Portuguese and are down one try within the first minute. This triggers a response from the boys and we take hold of the game. A great second half performance secures our first win of the series.
We have France up next - our old rivals - again we go a try down but manage to get a few tries of our own and lead by two points with 30 seconds to go, France have a scrum on our 10 metre line but with some good defensive play, we manage to turn the ball over and the final whistle is blown to make it two from two.
The last game of day 1 is against Argentina and due to some of the other games in our group not going our way, we have to beat Argentina to go through to the cup competition. Unfortunately we were unable to come back from this one and have to settle with a spot in the quarter final of the bowl.
Day 2 and even though we are massively disappointed not to qualify for the cup competition we have to pick ourselves up, as its business as usual. We draw the USA and its knock out rugby from now on so there are no second chances. We start to look more like ourselves in the game and play with much better width and put some really good passages of play together. Our width and hard running is too much for the Yanks and we pile on the pressure towards the end of the game, coming away with a comfortable win.
Spain is next in the Bowl semi-final and prove to be more of a challenge. A very high paced game goes from end to end. Spain have progressed massively in the last two seasons and look every inch a core team. Sadly all our efforts to claw back the deficit are in vain and the final hooter goes, our tournament is over. It's a hugely disappointing result for all involved and nowhere near the standard we have come to expect from our selves.
We stay to watch an exact replica of last year's final between New Zealand and Fiji and again Fiji are too strong for New Zealand. After the post tournament function at Skilled Park, home of the Gold Coast Titans, we head back to the hotel and as usual there is a meeting held by team manager Dai Jenkins and coach Paul John. In this meeting new caps are presented and it is a very important moment for all players involved.
The Colonel (Dai Jenkins) and Johnsey present Tom Williams and James Davies with their much deserved Wales 7's cap, following in their brothers' successful footsteps. Well done boys!
Unfortunately it's time for the long journey home. After a disappointing start to the series we look forward to righting the wrongs in training leading into the second leg in Dubai and the third leg in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in six weeks' time.