England happy to be Wellington Sevens villains
England coach Simon Amor is encouraging his players to embrace their villain status as they prepare to defend their Wellington Sevens title.
As a former England sevens captain, Amor, who replaced Ben Ryan as coach in September last year, knows all too well that Kiwi fans love to give the Poms a hard time.
That was never more evident than in last year's final, when England were an unpopular 24-19 winner over fairytale story Kenya at Westpac Stadium.
Of course most of the boos are good natured, but perhaps only Australia rival the English for a lack of crowd support.
"Every team wants to play in a tournament with atmosphere," said Amor, a 34-year-old who was the inaugural IRB Sevens player of the year in 2004.
"Whether that's people cheering you on or people supporting the opposition team and trying to put the heat on you, people just want to play in those atmospheres.
"That's what's fantastic about Wellington, the crowd go against the guys, but the atmosphere is great. And especially for the young guys, it's a great experience for them and they've got to step up to the pressure."
Wellington was England's only tournament win last season, and they finished sixth overall in the 2012-13 series.
Under Amor they have improved to fourth this season after four rounds, behind leaders South Africa, New Zealand and Fiji.
England meet South Africa, as well as Wales and Portugal in pool play tomorrow, and Amor said the physicality of the Neil Powell-coached 'Blitzbokke' was setting the standard for modern sevens.
"The physicality that the South Africans bring, they're not top of the series for no reason. They pride themselves on defence, they're very, very good in that area and they keep the ball very well so they're a very difficult team to beat at the moment. They are the form team so it'll be a big test for us."
The return of playmaker Tomasi Cama was huge for the hosts, in Amor's opinion, while the Westpac Stadium surface played into Fiji's hands.
"We were on it yesterday and the turf is amazing. It's a very fast track and I'm pretty sure it's the biggest pitch in the series so it really does suit the guys with a real fast, attacking kind of game."
England's best players are speedsters Dan Norton and Marcus Watson while new captain Tom Mitchell is comfortably the leading points scorer in the series with 156 after four rounds.
The English are well funded with a big support team but Amor said it remained unclear whether the top 15s players would represent Great Britain in sevens at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
"There's a lot of conversations going on about what that GB team will potentially look like. But this is about making some steady changes to the current group and giving new guys some opportunities, bringing new blood in and giving them a chance to shine."