January 26, 2021

Norton frustrated after Sevens decision

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Norton, alongside the rest of his England Sevens team, have told their contracts will not be renewed

Last Updated: 07/08/20 8:58am

Dan Norton's pace has been devastating on the Sevens circuit Dan Norton's pace has been devastating on the Sevens circuit

Dan Norton’s pace has been devastating on the Sevens circuit

He has thrilled rugby fans around the world for over a decade: after a stunning London Sevens debut as a fresh faced 19-year-old in 2009, Dan Norton would go on to become the world’s top try scorer in the history of the game, win an Olympic silver medal and be on the cusp of breaking the all-time Sevens appearance record.

But less than a year out from next year’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, Dan Norton, alongside the rest of his England Sevens team, have been told their contracts will not be renewed.

“On Monday we were told our contracts would not be renewed come the end of August, and we’d all be out of a job…the standpoint from the RFU is to end the programme until further notice,” said Norton.

‘Norts’ and his fellow men and women Sevens professionals feared there was bad news coming. But for this to happen, with the Olympics less than a year away, was true heartbreak.

“If you look at it from a business standpoint you can kind of understand that if a ship is sinking they need to find ways to support the Union, and Sevens isn’t the main bread winner. But with Sevens being an Olympic sport and how it’s developed a lot of incredible players over the years… there’s a lot of frustration. It’s pretty gutting to be honest!”

Norton in action for England in 2009 Norton in action for England in 2009

Norton in action for England in 2009

World Rugby has already cancelled all scheduled Sevens events on the men’s and women’s Series this year – and any sort of restart in 2021 looks far from certain. All that of course amid an atmosphere of pressing financial concerns brought about by coronavirus, with RFU CEO Bill Sweeney recently announcing a 25 per cent redundancy process across the organisation due to projected losses of up to £107m. The RFU had looked to change its Sevens model and sought assistance from other sources – unlike most Olympic sports, Sevens does not currently receive any funding from UK Sport.

“Next year was always about the Olympics… but we found out there was no UK Sport funding to support a Team GB, so from there we were not needed, and with no Sevens on the horizon they decided to wind down the ‘company’ and give us our end of agreement terms.”

He helped Team GB to a silver medal in the 2016 Olympic Games He helped Team GB to a silver medal in the 2016 Olympic Games

He helped Team GB to a silver medal in the 2016 Olympic Games

The future of England Sevens teams came under scrutiny earlier this year, with Sweeney questioning if they should combine with the Scotland and Wales sides under the Great Britain banner for the full World Sevens circuit, now the variant is an Olympic sport.

It’s a controversial subject with the fiercely independent Scotland Rugby Union, especially relying on Sevens as they do to help develop international fifteens players. Norton however, is unequivocal.

He said: “To collaborate and bring the three unions together would be great – shared resources, the player pool would be awesome. You’ve seen it with cycling and other Olympic sports bringing those nations together brings a lot of opportunity for growth. I’d love to see it happen.”

Silver medallists Britain celebrate on the podium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Silver medallists Britain celebrate on the podium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Silver medallists Britain celebrate on the podium at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

So what now for 32-year-old Norts and his fellow Sevens pros? What other rugby opportunities are out there? We’ve seen New Zealand Sevens players such as Caleb Clarke become stars of Super Rugby Aotearoa whilst Sevens has been on this enforced break.

“I’m trying to find a 15-a-side club…there are obviously less opportunities than there were a year or two ago. But Sevens players possess a great skill set, they’re very adaptable and flexible. I’m just trying to put myself in a position to perform if the call comes.”

Norton is hoping his Sevens skills will be snapped up by a 15-a-side team Norton is hoping his Sevens skills will be snapped up by a 15-a-side team

Norton is hoping his Sevens skills will be snapped up by a 15-a-side team

To hear Dan Norton sounding this composed and resolved so soon after losing his living is testament to the professional and person he is.

An international Sevens legend who has given years of service to the shorter form of the game deserves a proper send off, and a genuine chance at another Olympic medal. World Rugby owes a lot to players like Norton: they have been able to use Sevens as the Trojan horse by which to grow rugby around the world. Dan deserves a statue outside Twickenham one day. The question is – who will pay for it?