In September, two events comprising the 2021 Series were played in Canada to give all the countries involved on the men’s and women’s circuits a chance to play high-level matches in the build up to the return of a full campaign.

South Africa won both of the men’s tournaments in Edmonton and Vancouver, but Great Britain’s squad – made up of players from England, Scotland and Wales – showed up well.

Tony Roques' charges finished third in Edmonton, having been edged out in the semis by South Africa, and then they made it to the Vancouver final only to be beaten by the same opponents 24-12.

After this week’s 2022 curtain raiser in Dubai behind closed doors, on 3-4 December there is then another event at the iconic The Sevens Stadium with crowds back.

Before the third tournament in Malaga, Spain, in January, Great Britain will step back and will be replaced by English, Scottish and Welsh sides in the men’s events and England in the women’s event.

As a result, the Great Britain men’s squad wants to go out on a high, starting this week, and 22-year-old Barden said: “I can’t wait. The two events in Canada back in September really reminded us all just what it is like playing in iconic stadiums against the best teams in the world – and now we want more of it!

“As Great Britain we feel like we came together well in September as a squad made up of a mixture of guys, some who had been to the Tokyo Olympics in the summer and others like myself.

“We clicked pretty quickly in those two events and now we are really ready to kick out here in Dubai after a few more weeks of training together.

“Having made my England debut on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series back in 2018/19, the circuit holds special memories for myself and it is just great to see it back heading into 2022.

“Events in Dubai are always pretty special and although this week will be behind closed doors, as a Great Britain squad we are still fired up for our pool matches and we want to give a good account of ourselves.”

Barden mentioned breaking through into the England sevens squad in 2018-19, so how did his rugby journey take him to that point?

“I was based in London for the first few years of my life, I didn’t play rugby there, but when my family moved just outside of Guildford in Surrey I took up the sport,” he explains.

“I played at my local club Cranleigh RFC and at Duke of Kent School and then Cranleigh School so rugby became a big part of my life from an early age and I loved it.

“As a centre in 15s I represented my county, Surrey, at age-grade level and was part of the Harlequins Academy set-up from the age of 14 until about 16 when I unfortunately suffered a leg break.

“It was a very tough time for me, but I was very fortunate to have a coach at Cranleigh School called Andy Houston who helped me set out a plan for during my injury so that I could come back even fitter and stronger than before.

“He helped me set goals and push myself and we did lots of extra training sessions together, I wouldn’t be where I am now without his dedication.”

Bad timing

A starring performance then came from a fully fit Barden at the HSBC National Schools Sevens at Rosslyn Park in 2017 as Cranleigh School won the event.

That showing saw Barden brought back into the Harlequins Academy and he was enjoying life there in 2017-18 – his final year at school – before a grade one MCL tear suffered in a game for Cranleigh School put him on the sidelines for yet another spell.

“It was bad timing again as I missed a number of matches that year with the Harlequins Academy, but thankfully one of our coaches from there at the time, Warren Abrahams, also did some work with the England Sevens set-up,” Barden explains.

“He put me forward for a trial with England Sevens during the summer of 2018 when I was completing my A Levels and I just remember it being a baking hot two-day camp at Bisham Abbey.

“We were really pushed during that time, but I must have done okay because I was handed an Academy contract and the day after my last exam I was in training with the wider England Sevens squad at The Lensbury.”

Barden played in some Rugby Europe events in the next few weeks and months as he got used to the rigours of playing hooker in sevens at the top level and then was part of an England Academy squad that played in the Dubai Sevens invitational event towards the end of 2018.

“I was then lucky enough to be 13th man for the full England squad for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series event in Australia in February 2019 and after that I played in further events in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Singapore and London and Paris,” he continues.

“It was a bit surreal really, I was only 19 and suddenly I was playing with and against players who I admired and who I had previously watched on TV.

“I just tried to learn from the experienced guys around me in the England squad at the time like Phil Burgess, Tom Mitchell and others and I picked up so much information about life on and off the pitch for a sevens player in a short space of time.

“It was an amazing period.”

Raising the bar

By the time 2019-20 rolled around, Barden had begun a law degree at the University of Nottingham.

He admits taking the step back from his burgeoning sevens career was not an easy decision, but he has always kept in touch with the coaches with the England and Great Britain set-ups since then.

He is now in his third and final year of the degree, but strong showings for select sevens side Samurai over the summer led to a phone call from Great Britain head coach Roques to invite him to train with the squad leading up to the Canada double header.

“Coming back into things for those events was great and now my sole focus is just this first weekend in Dubai and then see where things go from there,” he concluded.

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