Phil Burgess discusses his England 7s career to date, his interests off the pitch and what it means to be elected RPA Vice-Chairman.
What was your initial reaction to being elected RPA Vice-Chairman?
It was such a proud moment for me. I have been a board member for the past five years and to have the opportunity to embark on this new role is very exciting. It’s going be a challenging environment, the game is experiencing a rapid period of growth, but I can’t wait to get stuck in and work alongside Mark Lambert to lead from the front and be a powerful voice for all professional rugby players in England.
Why did you want to put your name forward for Vice-Chairman?
I am massively passionate about our players, I want to make sure player welfare is at the forefront of every discussion. I am a big believer in looking after one another, standing together as a united playing group to make sure all decisions made in the game are agreed with the players at the centre of every discussion.
You are the first 7s player to have been elected into the role, how does that feel?
It’s a very proud feeling and it shows how far 7s rugby has progressed over the last five years. We are a relatively small fish when it comes to the professional game in England, but I strongly believe 7s deserves a significant voice and I’m delighted to be in the position to make a difference. There’s no doubt the challenges we face in our game are slightly different to the issues that affect the wider RPA membership, but at the end of the day we are all rugby players and we are all in the same boat. We want England to be the best place in the world to play rugby, and by doing so the players’ voice needs to be led by a strong unit of Player Representatives, all striving for equality across our game.
This is your sixth season on the RPA Players’ Board, what do you enjoy most about the experience?
It’s been a fascinating opportunity to attend board meetings, listen and contribute to the discussions and understand the different relationships between stakeholders. I have thoroughly enjoyed the role and I’m confident as the game continues to grow, we will build an even greater and more dedicated support network for our players.
Away from rugby you have been working with RPA partner Sanlam UK, can you touch on this opportunity?
I was initially introduced to Sanlam through one of their ‘Emerging Leaders’ networking events. I was invited to attend as a guest panellist to discuss leadership in sport and how it can be transferred into a business environment. From there I was invited back to attend further events hosted by Sanlam and through the partnership with the RPA I have organised some potential mentoring roles where I will visit businesses and deliver a range of executive coaching seminars. It’s something I am very passionate about and hopefully I can help guide businesses through certain situations, using my experiences from sport, and the skills I have developed throughout my career, to make confident decisions.
As a senior member of the England 7s squad, do you enjoy being a leader and mentor for the younger players?
Absolutely. I love being a senior member of this squad and it’s exciting to see all the fresh young talent we have within the England 7s programme. When I started my 7s career six seasons ago, we had a huge emphasis on building our own culture, setting out our own journey and implementing a strong and sustainable structure. Fast forward to 2019 and our squad is full of guys who are massively experienced and who are in a great position to mentor the younger players in the programme. We have an outstanding skipper in Tom Mitchell who leads the ship tremendously well and inspires us all, and beneath him we have strong leadership group who are responsible for certain areas within our team. From my point of view, I am proud to help drive the team forward, it not only inspires me but also encourages me to continue improving all aspects of my game, both on and off the pitch.
Having made the switch from 15s to 7s, what would be your advice to make it a success?
If you want to make the switch I would encourage you to grab the opportunity with both hands. The 7s circuit is awesome and we are presented with the opportunity to travel the world and play in some amazing venues. It’s an outstanding career choice and I strongly believe it will make you a better overall rugby player. Obviously, you will need to work exceptionally hard, and you will be tested both physically and mentally in entirely different ways, but it will be worth it.
What is your favourite destination on the 7s circuit?
This is a difficult one because I am slightly torn. To me Twickenham is the holy grail of rugby. Being able to play in front of a packed home crowd, wearing an England shirt and representing our family and friends is unreal. But personally, I love Dubai. It’s an old-school tournament with a great buzz. The weather is always beautiful, and the venue is electric. The main international pitch is surrounded by at least ten pitches, with all standards of rugby 7s taking place. I love walking around the venue, bumping into old university pals who are out there having a great time, and just soaking in the carnival atmosphere.