It was 2012 and Tom Mitchell had a sick feeling in his stomach. He was thousands of miles from home, in Wellington, New Zealand, and he was about to make his debut for England in the HSBC World Sevens Series against the Cook Islands.
He was the young upstart surrounded by experienced pros who he had only previously seen on television and he had all the right to feel nervous. Once the Cook Islands match kicked off, though, it was all focus. His first touch of the ball in his first match for England resulted in a try.
It was only the start for Mitchell, 29, who would go on to captain the England side.
“I have a very clear memory of my first rugby sevens match,” Mitchell told Olympic News. “I remember feeling a bit sick in the canteen before my first training session. I didn’t really know what to expect because I’d only ever seen it on TV and there were some big names around me.
🌊 On the same wave length
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) February 20, 2019
“I played my first tournament in Wellington in 2012 and made my debut against Cook Islands. I scored my first try with my first touch in my first match. It was a pretty nice way to start.
“It was a turning point in my apprenticeship and a great honour. I’ve continued to improve but there is still a long way to go. I’m learning every day, I want more and I’m always looking to make it to the next level.”
Mitchell and his England teammates are fifth in the 2018/19 world series with 107 points, needing to finish fourth if they want to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Whether they succeed in reeling in fourth-placed South Africa (21 points) or must compete in regional qualifiers, Mitchell will play an integral part.
Mitchell suffered a leg injury during the 2014/15 world series that sidelined him for the rest of the season. However, he bounced back to lead the Great Britain team to the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
After getting silver he said: “Growing up and being a lover of sport as a kid, you watch the Olympics realising that’s the pinnacle of sport.”
Under Mitchell, England achieved their best performance yet in the world series of 2016/17 season with six podium finishes, winning twice with two silvers and one bronze.
He said the life of a sevens player is one of commitment and sacrifice.
“You have to live a different life, you have to stay in when you might want to go out,” he said. “You can’t just have a lazy take away; you need to make yourself proper food all the time. For some people, that’s not the life they want to live, but the rewards are great.
“The thing about being a professional athlete is you’re not just 9 to 5. There is not really a clocking-off time, so you go home, you think about what you’re eating, how much sleep you need that night.
“That can be a tough thing to adjust to at the beginning but, once you’re into it and you realise why you’re making those sacrifices then it just becomes part of your life.”
Mitchell has racked up career statistics of 305 matches, 131 tries and 1,521 points. He will lead his team again at the world series 2019 in London later this month hopefully he will grab more points for himself.
Main photo credit: Mike Lee – KLC fotos, World Rugby