Vickerman now in sevens heaven despite being on sidelines yet again

Rob Vickerman in action for Leeds (Picture: Steve Riding).
Rob Vickerman in action for Leeds (Picture: Steve Riding).
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For a player who has travelled the world playing rugby sevens, representing England in exotic places like Las Vegas and Hong Kong, the Commonwealth Games has always been a tournament that has been out of reach for Rob Vickerman.

Either by injury or by choice, the gathering of the 16 best nations from Her Majesty’s British Empire has taken place without the 29-year old from Leeds, who for a long time captained his country.

In Melbourne in 2006, the young Leeds academy prospect, who burst onto the sevens scene two years earlier with a try in the Paris Sevens, was undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, so missed out.

By the 2010 Games in Delhi – after sporadic appearances in an England sevens shirt in victories in Dubai and Wellington – Vickerman was back playing in the 15-man game for Premiership side Newcastle Falcons.

Only when the Rugby Football Union decided to make their sevens programme full-time with the appointment of 12 professional players in 2011, did Vickerman commit wholeheartedly to a version of union that had always captured his imagination.

So, three years on, and as the third Commonwealth sevens tournament of his union career begins and ends this weekend – and the fifth in the history of the Games – where is Vickerman?

In the commentary box at Ibrox Stadium, that’s where.

For Vickerman took the decision over the winter to return to the regular grind of the 15-man game after two-and-a-half years of the jet-setting lifestyle with the high-flying sevens.

Age – 29 – and the duty to put down roots for his young family back in his home city of Leeds, took precedence over a desire to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition of playing at a multi-sport event.

“It’s difficult not playing in it but I’m definitely going to be supporting it 100 per cent,” said Vickerman, who rejoined Leeds Carnegie over the winter ahead of their re-naming as Yorkshire, in a move that excites him even more.

“The only thing I would regret is if Yorkshire were playing in it but I’m in a good position now to represent my county which is something that I have always been passionate about.

“I didn’t play at Delhi, I was with the 15s for that one and I was injured for the big one in 2006 when we got the silver medal –and that was tough to see.”

Despite the near-misses the 2014 sevens tournament – played today and tomorrow with the final scheduled for late tomorrow night – is one he will look upon with pleasure.

Sevens has become established in the Commonwealth Games programme since its inception in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

Its inclusion in the Olympic programme for the Rio Games in two years’ time is the big pat on the back from the world of sport that sevens is a game that ticks all the right boxes.

But for Vickerman, having the tournament on the world stage on British soil this weekend, will be its biggest shop window yet.

Vickerman said: “I think its going to be a great chance for people to see what a great sport rugby sevens is first and foremost.

“If you look at any type of event to be staged in that environment you want something that’s fun, fast and a highlights package, which personifies what sevens is all about.

“You’re going to get people that have never seen sevens let alone Caribbean players or smaller nations, and what an oppurtunity for them to play in a Commonwealth Games.

“It’s a real shop window in Glasgow – they had 55,000 on both days for the world series event at Twickenam in May. It was a shame that it wasn’t done as a demonstration sport at London 2012 because with Twickenam as a venue you can’t get much better.

“But Glasgow is going to be a great experience for the players.

“Multi­-sport events are good because you learn a lot from other people, and that helps the sport grow.”

There are 16 nations in the sevens tournament – the sole male-only sport in the Commonwealth programme – with New Zealand the overwhelming favourites, having won every competition so far, without losing a game.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are joined by the traditional powerhouses of world rugby, like the All Blacks, Australia and South Africa.

But the flair and unpredictability of sevens is provided by the Pacific Island and Caribbean teams.

The matches are played in two seven-minute halves with seven men per side on a standard 15-man rugby pitch.

Vickerman added: “Sevens as a product is growing, but it’s still under-developed and at the moment players and governing bodies are having to decide what they want to do – whether they want to make it a serious full-time sport or just have a go at it.

“Fortunately, when you see England and the other major nations investing in it, and the global sports bodies supporting it, then it shows that sevens is headed in the right direction.

“And I truly believe sevens is about to take off. And with the sport joining the Olympics in Rio, people will start to realise that if they want to be a professional sevens player and an Olympian, then there is a route to go down – and how exciting is that?

“I had experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime – and I would recommend this sport to anyone.”

Yorkshire will have a representative on the pitch in England’s 12-man squad.

Rotherham’s Tom Powell, 28, used to play club rugby for Dinnington in the county pyramid and joined the sevens programme when it went full-time in 2011, after a spell playing for Cambridge.

He was part of the England team that finished fourth in Delhi and silver at last year’s sevens world championship.