Exclusive: Team GB’s Harry Glover on his journey to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo

Harry Glover will join Stade Francois at the conclusion of the Olympic Games in Tokyo
©RFU Collection via Getty Images

Harry Glover was just 20 years old when Team GB’s men’s side won a silver medal in rugby sevens some five years ago.

Having made his World Series debut that March, in the early hours of Monday morning in Great Britain, Glover will finally be able to call himself an Olympian. It has been a journey with plenty of peaks and troughs, with injury, funding cuts and a global pandemic the primary hurdles in his way.

Having started playing rugby at Rosslyn Park, the centre’s education of the sport continued at Rokeby Prep School, Harrow and at county level with Middlesex. His talents spotted by the Wasps Academy; it was in 2015 that Glover made his first foray into the shorter format of the game.

Becoming a regular under Simon Amor, Glover was one of the key men as England qualified Team GB for the Tokyo Games in Colomiers just over two years ago. TRU were present at the Stade Michel Bendichou that weekend, watching on as Glover well and truly put his body on the line to beat France in the final.

Having medalled at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast and at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in the same year, confidence was certainly high within the group about what could follow in 2020.

But no one would have predicted what happened in the months that followed. 

Injured after the Cape Town leg of the World Series in 2019, Glover was at home watching on as his England teammates played in Vancouver in 2020, talk of Covid-19 picking up on a daily basis.

Told that the group would be having just a few weeks off because of the pandemic, those weeks grew into months, the Olympic Games postponed and the future looking more and more uncertain.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Harry Glover (@harryglover1)

Eventually the day came where all the athletes were pulled onto a call, a call that confirmed that the England Sevens programme was being scrapped by the RFU. Believing that the delayed Games would be taking place as planned, Glover immediately set about finding himself a 15-a-side club.

Signing for Pro D2’s Carcassonne as a medical joker, Glover took the opportunity with both hands, heading to the famous walled city as soon as possible.

“I flew out there on a week’s notice and had an amazing experience, albeit a strange one at the start,” Glover said. “My French is not great, and they are quite an old school club, so I was trying to understand what was going on and was completely isolated.

“Couple that with a pandemic and not being able to go out and do things, it was quite tricky at the start. The club was amazing with welcoming me in and after three weeks there, they offered me the opportunity to stay until the end of the season. 

“I spoke to the GB Sevens guys, and they said I had to take what I could get at that moment but did ask that I get a clause written in that I could get out once the sevens got back up and running.

“I got that clause, played all the way up until March and was always in open communication with the sevens coaches and strength and conditioning coaches to keep my fitness up, to be doing the right things and then was back in the mix with GB Sevens team by April.

“So, we are three months on from there now and it has been a great time. It was turbulent (the past 18 months), but what an amazing experience to go and play 15s, because that has always been my goal for after the Olympics, so it (Covid) opened the door for me in quite a weird way.”

The initial GB Sevens squad was announced at the end of February, not too long after it was announced vital funding from the National Lottery - as well as other investors - was announced. Making camp in Loughborough, it was just the second time that players from England, Scotland and Wales had been brought together in this way, Glover starting his journey from afar over Zoom.

Having had his name originally omitted from the squad as a result of his club commitments in France, when Glover did arrive in the East Midlands he had to get used to a very different way of living.

With regular testing and limited facetime with his new teammates, it would have no doubt been a major change to what he had become accustomed to with England and their old base at The Lensbury in London.

Now playing under Tony Roques, Glover well and truly got his head down on the hunt for selection. Eventually the weeks of constant training were put to good use, firstly at the International Rugby Sevens in Staffordshire, where GB played host to both Ireland and the USA, before heading over to Dublin to play the Irish on numerous occasions in the HPC International 7s, then out to Los Angeles for the Quest for Gold Sevens.

After their sojourn to the USA’s west coast, it was time to find out who had made the cut. Glover was amongst that lucky 13, the Englishman joined by his countrymen Dan Bibby, Alex Davis, Ben Harris, Ollie Lindsay-Hague, Tom Mitchell, Dan Norton, Ethan Waddleton and Tom Bowen (reserve).

Scotland’s Alec Coombes, Robbie Fergusson, Ross McCann and Max McFarland comprised of the rest of the squad, with seven players receiving the devastating news that they would not be packing their bags for a trip to Japan’s capital, the season names of Rich de Carpentier, Luke Treharne and Will Muir all missing out.

“It is the nature of elite sport,” Glover said. “It is completely cut-throat. We weren’t shy to speak about selection from the start, we had a set date that we were going to do it and they put the option across to us about how we wanted to do it.

“We elected for a face to face one on one with the coaches and then to head off home to our families after getting the news. It was complete heartbreak for some guys that been working towards this and elation for the guys selected. 

“We always come back to it not just being the 13 going out to Tokyo that have built this team. It has been everyone involved, not just the players but the staff, and we made that clear very, very early doors in the culture. 

“That definitely doesn’t completely remedy the disappointment that the guys feel. That is the brutality of elite sport. Hopefully that makes our team one of the best out here, because we have been beating each other up for the past four months to get these places. Hopefully we come out as a pretty strong team.”

Placed in Pool B alongside reigning champions Fiji, as well as host Japan and a Canadian men’s team that are appearing at their first Olympic Games.

At the time of the Pool announcement in June, there was great anticipation from fans, knowing that in the opening stages of the competition GB would be coming up against three teams that would each pose a challenge.

In particular it was the prospect of playing the tournament’s hosts that whet the appetite most. Just over a week after the draw, it was announced that spectators would largely be banned as a result of a ‘Covid emergency’ being declared by Japan.

It was the culmination of several weeks of calls for the Games to be postponed again by locals and means that the entirety of the sevens competition will be played behind closed doors.

As a result, any sort of reflection of the scenes that we saw over the duration of the 2019 Ruby World Cup will remain as a distant recollection. Every Olympics is packed with memories, no more so than for the athletes and something that is not lost on Glover for a moment.

“It would be ideal if there was a full capacity crowd there and we love playing against home nations in tournaments,” Glover said. “It is one of the most memorable things you look back on when you look at tournaments, with just how incredible and the atmosphere always is.

“If we had it our way, we would have full capacity crowds, but that is not the hand we have been dealt at the moment. The best team to adapt is the team the team that is going to do the best in the tournament, so our focus is on the medal.

“You have to stay on your toes, and anything can happen, especially after the last 18 months that we have had. You never know what is going to happen in two weeks. We’d absolutely love for it to be normal, but that is not the case.

“Hopefully we still massively enjoy going out there and playing the sport we love for Team GB. For us, there is only five guys that have been to an Olympics before, so we are relatively new to this, so hopefully everyone can soak it all up and enjoy every moment.”

For players across the men’s and women’s squads, it will be their last shot at medalling at the Olympics. That is what the struggle of the past 18 months has all been for, players looking to fund a programme themselves, going back into the workplace and even lobbying for said funding.

A chance at a gold, silver or bronze medal is something that may only come around the once and this is very much the case for Glover. His stint with Carcassonne clearly made an impression, the 25-year-old moving to Paris after the Games to represent Top 14 side Stade Francais.

There, Glover will be mixing it with some of the world’s best, Gonzalo Quesda the man charged with helping the club become titans of the club game once more.

Qualification for the next edition of the Champions Cup is one step of that ambition, whilst the signing of Ngani Laumape and retention of Nicolas Sanchez, Telusa Veainu, Marcos Kremer and Sekou Macalou all add further intrigue to the side.

The Stade Jean-Bouin is no stranger to Glover either, the Paris leg of the World Series held in West Paris since 2017. Also set to host the sevens at the 2024 Summer Olympics, and as much as Glover may hold that date in mind, the next stage of his career will be in pink.

“ProD2 is a great league and the Top 14 definitely watch,” Glover said. “I am massively excited for that next step, which is two years in Paris. I still haven’t quite got my head around it. 

“I am heading out to meet everyone, do my medical and to play with the team in mid-August, the Top 14 restarting at the start of September against Racing 92 at home. So a Paris derby to start it all off will be a baptism of fire, but an awesome experience if I am involved in any way.

“I loved my time out in France and it was definitely a pretty easy decision when Stade Francais came knocking, and with the kind of team they have got, and the coaching staff too. To be completely honest, I still haven’t got my head around it fully, with Tokyo being at the forefront of my mind at the moment.”