About a year ago I went to Broadstreet RFC near Coventry to have a look at the National U19 7s. I was in the area and I thought it would be an opportunity to support the Eastern Counties side. I met up with manager Simon Lord and coach Chris Roome who had put a scratch squad together and with the minimum of training and players dropping out through injury they managed to get to the Plate final where they were comfortably beaten.
I have long been a fan of 7s and loved playing when I was considerably thinner, fitter and faster! So with its inclusion as an Olympic sport and the higher profile the shorter version of the game will attract I agreed with Simon and Chris to put together a structure to support the 7s squad at the 2011 tournament. The first thing was to include the U19 7s squad in the Eastern Counties plan for representative rugby, forming a link between the U18 squad and the newly reformed U20s squad. The second thing was to create a Club Colts 7s tournament as a selection event where the management team could have a look at players.
The Eastern Counties committee accepted the place of the 7s squad in the representative structure and, after some negotiation, West Norfolk RFC was the venue for the Colts 7s the weekend before Easter. Seven teams entered, not as many as I had hoped, but on a hot, sunny day Colchester emerged victorious and about 80 players were informally assessed.
Click for tournament photos
A squad was put together from players at the West Norfolk tournament and others that the selectors had seen elsewhere and it was entered into a 7s tournament at Ely RFC as EC Vandals. After a cautious start the players got into their stride and won the competition conceding just two tries. Although the opposition wasn’t the strongest it gave the players the chance to gel before the National U19 tournament.
At Broadstreet RFC two of the expected 16 participating teams pulled out and Eastern Counties was in a pool of three with Lancashire and Leicestershire and as at Ely the players got off to a slow start, conceding a string of penalties and losing 20-19 to Lancashire. With a minimal amount of rest the team was back on the field to face Leicestershire and again they put in an ill-disciplined performance and went down 17-12 to find themselves in the Plate competition.
There was a long wait while the pools with four teams completed their games, time that Chris Roome and Simon Lord used to help the players refocus as one more loss would mean they would be going home early. The Plate quarter-final opponents were Dorset & Wilts and for the Eastern Counties players looked more settled than in the pool games. They took charge of the match early on and raced to a 26-7 lead before D&W pulled back a try for a 26-12 final score.
The semi-final was to be against Cheshire who by all accounts were unlucky to have been knocked out of the Cup. They were a big side and in the first minute were camped on the Eastern Counties line but good defence kept them out. Cheshire were playing a physical game, preferring to try and force their way through the defensive line rather than passing along the line when there was a clear overlap. It took until the fourth minute, an eternity in 7s, for them to finally break through but they managed two more unanswered tries for what those on the touchline thought was a 19-0 half-time lead.
Eastern Counties received the kick-off for the second half and for the first time began to look threatening and when the ball went wide their greater pace was obvious and they pulled back a converted try. In 7s the scoring team restarts and the kick-off was dropped by Cheshire giving ECRU the advantage. Cheshire defended and on instructions from their coach slowed play down whenever possible, but Eastern Counties found the gap and scored out wide, the conversion falling short to make the score 12-19 with two minutes to go.
Cheshire received the ball and continued to try to force their way through, but as they tired they put in a huge kick forcing ECRU to run from their own line. Without panicking they passed the ball along the line until Mike Stanway spotted a gap and broke out from his own 22 to score under the posts, Brambley nonchalantly converting to level the scores. Or so we thought. With both teams in their respective huddles we believed that there would be extra time, but two new teams were taking the field with a new referee so I went up to the coach to ask what was happening. Cheshire had only converted one of their tries so Eastern Counties has won 19-17 and were through to the final!
The opponents were Warwickshire and ECRU got off to a flying start with a try in the first 30 seconds. Warwickshire replied by breaking through the ECRU defence but a tackle just short of the line stopped a try, although at the cost of a yellow card for coming in at the side and preventing release of the ball. Two minutes with only six players could have seen ECRU go behind but well-organised and determined defence just metres from the try line kept Warwickshire at bay until the ball popped out of a ruck for Tom Crozier to pick up and sprint the length of the pitch to score a very unlikely try. At this point the players knew the Plate was theirs for the taking and a swagger appeared in their step as their confidence grew.
In their best performance of the day Eastern Counties put on a great display of 7s rugby in front of the main stand, thwarting every Warwickshire attack and when in possession throwing the ball back and forth across the field until a gap appeared for a break. Eastern Counties won in style running in seven tries for a 47-0 scoreline and proud captain Damien Brambley collected the Plate trophy from RFU President Richard Appleby.
Click for pictures from the day
This was certainly an improvement on the previous season and the aim should be to do better at next season’s competition where we hope to enter two sides. As the popularity of 7s increases it would be good to see more tournaments locally for youth and adults and maybe an organised series for clubs during May and June, but that’s a subject for a future blog.
More 7s for me this coming weekend when I’ll be at Twickenham for the London leg of the HSBC Sevens series, where, if past years anything to go by, we should be treated to two days of non-stop thrilling rugby.
- Pool – Lancashire 19-20
- Pool – Leicestershire 12-17
- Quarter final – Dorset & Wiltshire II 26-12
- Semi-final – Cheshire 19-17
- Plate final – Warwickshire II 47- 0
- Damien Brambley (Colchester)
- James Crossley (North Walsham)
- Tom Crozier (Colchester)
- Henry Dewing (North Walsham)
- Harry Downing (North Walsham)
- Owen Herbert (Colchester)
- Chris Lord (Bury St Edmunds)
- Jaco Nel (Colchester)
- Ryan Oaks (Lowestoft & Yarmouth)
- Charlie Precious (Diss)
- Mike Stanway (Sudbury)
- Ben Wakefield (Colchester)
- Manager – Simon Lord
- Coach – Chris Roome
- Physio – Toni Bladon (Lakenham-Hewett Ladies)