Holland's heavy road to Sydney

by Sam Phillips

It's been a long, painful road to the 2018 Sydney Sevens for Lewis Holland.

The Australian Men's Sevens skipper watched on at his home tournament last year, still recovering from an achilles injury suffered in training four months earlier.

His teammates earned a cup semi-final berth, only to be beaten by eventual champions, South Africa, sucking the life out of an Allianz Stadium that was riding Australia's unexpected run to the final four.

There'll be no sideline observing for Holland this year, in a tournament that he and coach Andy Friend consider the first of three targets of 2018.

Sydney, the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup.

The first of the big three awaits Holland and co this weekend and it's a tournament that the 25-year-old holds close to his heart.Holland is now the face of the Aussie Sevens. Photo: Getty Images"Playing the first one in Sydney was something that I never really experienced," Holland told RUGBY.com.au.

"Coming from Gold Coast and Adelaide, where the crowds were a little bit less and then playing in Sydney, having everyone cheer for you and get around you.

"We had a good result in the first year before getting pipped at the end by New Zealand.

"Then watching the boys last year, they had a very young squad, a very inexperienced squad but they played the way they wanted to play and with their hearts.

"Everyone supported that and this year those guys will grow again.

"Running out here you get a good, vocal noise from the crowd and the boys just vibe off that."

The Australians were unlucky to not finish on the podium in Dubai before a subpar tournament in Cape Town left them in sixth place on the World Series standings heading into Sydney.

The five-year title drought has been a regular part of the team's public discourse and that translates to a mental barrier that, on field, the team must clear if they are to push for cups once more.

Holland, having returned in fantastic form from one of the most devastating injuries of all, knows all about the mental strength that will be required.

"Any injury you have, you want to get back from it," he said.

"Regardless of whether someone says you can't - you try to get back and prove them wrong.

"Coming back from the achilles was a mental thing.

"At the start, you can't really walk properly and then when you start walking, you can't do a heel raise.

"When you start doing a heel raise, you can't start jogging.

"It's a progression thing and you really see your body adapt and change.

"Your mind also - off the field - I have been watching a lot of rugby and picked up a lot of cues that I can hopefully put out there in play."

That mental strength is just one of the many leadership qualities Holland displayed on and off field, convincing Friend to put the 'C' next to his name.

It wasn't something that Holland desired at the time but now, he has embraced the role and everything that comes with it.

"Growing up I didn't captain any side and it wasn't something I was expecting," he said.

"It just came along through hard work and how I was conducting myself, playing and training.Holland has returned in fine form. Photo: Getty Images"It's a massive honour to be able to captain your country but it definitely wasn't something at the forefront of my mind that I wanted to achieve.

"I don't mind a bit of a spray or a bit of verbal guidance but I also like to just get the ball and do what I do when I play rugby.

"I don't really think of myself as 'this bloke' and strive to be that, I just do what I do and hopefully that leaves an example for some of the younger fellas."

Having returned from injury fit and firing, Holland is now the man charged with leading Australia to the top of a Sevens tournament that grows in stature every year.

If nerves are any guide, just how much pride he takes in leading that charge is crystal clear.

"I don't usually get too nervous before I play but I think coming into Sydney I will have the shakes, pre game," he said.

"Then, once I get out there, everything just takes over and away you go."