Try record looms as England eye Hong Kong Sevens boost

Frederick ATTEWILL
Dan Norton of England heads into the annual showpiece of sevens rugby in Hong Kong with 244 tries

Try-machine Dan Norton has a world record in his sights as England seek a long-awaited victory at this week's Hong Kong Sevens to close the gap on series leaders South Africa.

The 28-year-old wing heads into the annual showpiece of sevens rugby level on 244 tries with Kenya's Collins Injera, and vying to seize sole ownership of the all-time record for sevens tries.

England coach Simon Amor, who led Great Britain to Olympic silver in Rio last year, was full of praise for Norton, a career sevens specialist, as the milestone approaches.

"Players like Dan, they really set the world on fire and it makes the game so exciting to watch," Amor said.

"They're fundamental to growing the game so it's great to have all these superstars out there."

Norton, who made his England debut in 2009, also starred in Britain's Olympic campaign last year, when they lost in the final to a rampant Fiji.

"Certainly one of the key aspects of Dan Norton is that he is quick -- which helps because he is a winger -- and he's got wonderful feet," Amor said.

"I still think there are improvements to make, which is quite exciting, and he's only 28 so he's got a few more years left."

England haven't won in Hong Kong since 2006, the last in a sequence of four wins in five years during Amor's playing days.

With Hong Kong defending champions Fiji suffering an Olympic hangover, and New Zealand under new management, South Africa lead England by 23 points in the standings after victories in Dubai, Wellington, Sydney and Las Vegas.

Amor dismissed suggestions England were favourites despite a string of injuries suffered by South Africa, whose coach Neil Powell remained upbeat as they seek their first win in Hong Kong.

- Tietjens 'loving' Samoa -

Diminutive wing Selvyn Davids will make his debut in place of Rosco Speckman, who was ruled out with a hamstring injury, but South Africa welcome back powerful forward and Olympic bronze medallist Tim Agaba after 12 weeks off with an ankle injury.

"Even though we have a few injuries, and lost some key players, we can still have a good mix of experience and some youngsters in the squad and having Tim Agaba back will bring some physicality to our team as well," Powell said.

"He might make one or two mistakes because of the rustiness but I'm happy to have him back."

Reigning series and Olympic champions Fiji will seek their first trophy of the season in Hong Kong, where they have won a record 16 times, as they rebuild under new coach Gareth Baber.

Fellow Pacific islanders Samoa also have a new coach in Kiwi veteran Gordon Tietjens, who shifted allegiances after 22 years and 12 world series titles with New Zealand.

Tietjens admitted he was heading "into the unknown" with 13th-placed Samoa, but said he had selected an experienced squad to take on big guns England and Australia in Pool A.

"It's exciting times -- totally different to what I was coaching before, but it's unbelievable how respectful the players are, and it's certainly a culture I'm loving at the moment," Tietjens said.

South Africa will play France, Canada and Injera's Kenya in Pool B, while Fiji and New Zealand are bracketed in a tough Pool C also including Wales and Japan.