England’s South African-born speedster Mat Turner is happy to be a marked man going into the start of the Sevens World Series.
The 24-year-old was the leading try-scorer in the 2011-12 campaign, touching down 38 times, once more than his teammate Dan Norton, in the course of the nine tournaments.
Turner was also a nominee for World Player of the Year – an award he covets in 2012-13 – but he argues any extra attention coming his way will simply open up more space for the other players in an England squad he believes is their ‘best ever’.
“Last year was my first proper year cementing a starting spot and it gave me an opportunity to build performances one after the other.” said Turner.
“It was my best year so far and that’s a tribute to [head coach] Ben Ryan changing the game plan to work for our individual strengths.
“I want to be player of the year this year. It was one of my goals last year and I was just short. Top try-scorer was never a goal but somehow the boys put me in the right place at the right time and I managed to beat Dan Norton by one. I’m sure he’ll beat me by two this year to show he’s the better try-scorer.
“Do I worry about pressure? I hope people look at me and say ‘what’s he going to produce?’ It’s more of a challenge and if they start marking me up more they’ll give our other guys more room. And you can’t give any of our guys half a yard.”
England start the 2012-13 series with a settled squad of capped players and 10 of the 12 in transit to the Gold Coast Sevens on October 13-14 have lifted titles, most recently in Dubai last December.
Added to that stability, Turner believes the squad are in better physical shape than ever for the punishing tournament format which sees them play six high-intensity games in two days.
He said: “This is the best squad we’ve had. I came in late into pre-season and I was shocked at the pace the guys were running at, their physicality and the condition they were in. It’s a tribute to the coaching staff that we’re in such great shape. If you watched a video of us training and compared it to a year ago, you’d think last year’s team was a semi-pro one. There’s been a huge leap.
“Last year we’d get to Day Two a bit bumped and bruised but now we’re the fittest we’ve ever been. Dan Norton broke the England fitness testing records and it didn’t even look like he was trying that hard. He just cruised. It was scary to watch him just glide along.
“That’s going to make a difference in the way we play. Everyone knows we’ve got wheels [speed]. Now we can keep running and running and when there’s 13 minutes 50 seconds on the clock we can still go 100metres and score a try.”
To mount a challenge for a first series title, though, England need to win more tournaments after a single victory in each of the last two years. They beat New Zealand only once last season and despite a winning record against Fiji, they finished behind the Islanders in third place.
“What lost us big games and finals last year was our mistakes and we’ve been focusing on that, on ourselves and what we do rather than on the opposition. If we do what we do, and do it right, we’ll win games,” added Turner.
“We’ve beaten New Zealand and Fiji, so we know we can do it, and we’ve got guys with a huge amount of experience. Ten of the 12 have won titles. We’ve just got to channel that right.”
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