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Army reign continues at Bournemouth

Bournemouth 7s – Day 1 – Pool Stages

Following success at Rugby Rocks, Richmond the Army 7s team returned to Bournemouth 7s Festival this weekend, the event is the biggest 7s competition in the United Kingdom attracting a crowd of 20,000 people to what has commonly become known as ’the party of the year’ however for the Army there was only business matters on the mind as we were looking to retain the Elite Men’s Cup title for a third consecutive year.

The Army headed up Pool C along with Loughborough Students, Rugby Lions and Premiership side Bath being run by Danny Grewcock. A minutes silence was respectfully observed by both teams and supporters prior to each of the Army’s matches for the news that had broken that morning of the death of a soldier from 1st Battalion Royal Welsh. The team are very much ’Soldiers First, Sportsmen Second’ and this had been echoed in the teams morning prayer session, who feel immensely honoured to wear the red jersey and do so not only for themselves but the thousands of British Soldiers serving at home and overseas.

The Army’s first match was against Loughborough Students, newcomers to Bournemouth this year, the two sides should have met last weekend at Richmond but heavy traffic meant the students were unfortunately delayed but they were at Bournemouth with time to spare and so to kick off.

The reds had to wait until 1300 for their first match and some unusual unforced errors in the opening minutes looked as though we were a little rattled and needed to get into our stride. Loughborough, one of the top sporting universities in the country, were a young but well drilled side and it is testament to their defence that the Army had to wait until 5 minutes into the match until the first try came from Roko, his first of many over the weekend. Loughborough were not letting the reds have it all their own way by any means and were punishing our mistakes, only an intercept from Roko and his natural speed to finish the try saw the Army go into half time 14-0 up.

The Reds kicked off the second half and again early handling errors gave possession to the students, the Army defence had been awesome at Richmond last week and was again holding strong as Loughborough played for territory. Further tries for the Army from substitute Knoxy and Roko securing his hatrick saw the Reds run out winners 28-0 the score line not perhaps a true reflection of the more evenly matched game.

Up next for the Reds was Rugby Lions, a side coached by England sevens star Ben Gollings, the reds fired from their blocks with Zac breaking down the wing only being stopped by a last minute covering tackle from the Lions 5 metres from the line. The Lions struck straight back with a break through the middle; it looked like a certain try for them with only one man to beat, Roko, who lined the runner up and stood firm’ the crunching tackle came with oohs and winces from the supportive crowd.

Again the reds had to wait over 5 minutes for their first score but patience is a virtue and it paid off with Ben Seru scoring two in quick succession nearing half time but with the restart won there was still time for a Roko special creating something from nothing and blasting over to take the Reds into half time 21-0.

If the Reds were firing from the blocks in the first half they were catapulting from them in the second as Army 7s legend Bunny crossed to score on 30 seconds, Roko added another on 3 minutes to take the lead to 33-0 a comfortable cushion some may say but the Reds looked hungry. Captain Wes was as ever a work horse, first to every break down looking to turn over Lions possession which on most occasions he did. The Army were camped on the Lions try line and a cheeky sidestep and show and go from Roko saw his second hatrick in as many games.
From the restart speedster Ben ‘Subaru’ Seru intercepted from the Lions possession, linked well with Zac who set up captain Wes to finish the job and score the try with seconds left to play Bunny added his second try and with the extras from the conversion time was called, 52-0, an excellent result.

The climax to the day’s rugby and the pool C decider saw the Army come up against premiership side Bath, this had been hotly anticipated as the match of the day and a large crowd had gathered to see the outcome. Team Manager John Voss, a Bath boy through and through, was unusually quiet, perhaps a little nervous? The match started a little differently than the previous two pool matches for the Reds as we conceded an early Bath try. The young Bath side were applying all the pressure with play seeming to be all in the Army half, the reds stole possession and shipped the ball wide, Roko was waiting, he had a lot to do but do
it he did beating two Bath players to bring the score level to 7-7.

From the restart the Reds worked the play back up to half way and a break through the centre saw Ben Seru score under the posts, there was still time for more before the break, Roko seemed to slip through tackle after tackle like soap through the hands as he charged his way to the line to add one more, half time 21-7 to the Reds. The second half saw more of the same end to end rugby, pressure in the Army forced an error giving Bath an excellent attacking opportunity with a scrum on our 5metre line and attack the did with a try in the corner, 21-12 it wasn’t over yet, who wanted it more? Wes and Knoxy were tackling demons driving the waves of Bath attacks backwards into their own half and as the ball came loose Ben Seru seized the opportunity sealing the win with a final try. The final score 28-12 to the reds and topping pool C going into Day 2.

As the party goers headed off to have fun into the early hours the team headed back to the hotel for ice baths, recovery and treatments to ensure they were well prepared for the knock out stages to follow the next day.

Day 2 – Knockout

The previous evening’s entertainment had obviously gone well as the team arrived to a very quiet ground on the Sunday morning. The many sore heads starting to emerge from the campsite but the Army team were focused, today the business end of the competition started and it was simple win or go home.

The first test for the Reds was Storm 7s in our quarter final, it was crucial to start well and show our intent for the day and this we did. Roko broke from within our own half and after slicing through tackles set up Ben Seru to open the scoring on 2 minutes. As Storm received an early penalty from an Army infringement the reds now infamous defence shut them down and forced the steal, Zac sped down the line, then cut back inside to score; 12 – 0 to the reds. The Army speedsters were making a name for themselves but Storm had pace too as the showed breaking from a scrum and shipping the ball out to their winger to steal a try.
The Reds needed to respond straight away and that they did with Roko once again dancing through tacklers from within the Army half and then turning on the gas to blast home on the stroke of half time with the extras added it was 19-7 at the break.

The Army restarted the match in the second half but with the kick not going ten awarded a free kick to Storm, an unusual mistake from the Reds could have easily been punished by the pacey Storm side if it wasn’t from an interception from Roko passing back inside to allow Seru to score within the opening minute.

From the restart Storm put pressure on the Reds and taking note from our excellent defence were pushing the Reds backwards and forcing us to play rugby deep in our own half; this forced an error and as the ball came loose Storm seized the opportunity to sneak in another try bringing the score line to 26-14, game very much on! On came sub Knoxy and Storm sensing the Army were not ready in position snuck a quick restart to catch us off guard, the pressure was on with play all within the Reds 22 as the attacks came wave after wave the Reds were awarded for a penalty for crossing, Roko cleared to touch driving play further up field
and away from the Army half with 30 seconds to play, Roko had been everywhere and fittingly the last play went to him as he crossed as time was up to secure the 31-14 victory, the Reds had weathered the Storm.

The Semi final brought the Reds face to face with our friends and rivals Apache in what was a repeat of the 2011 festival final.

The Army started with clear intent to put early points on the board, as Roko sped down the wing beating two Apache defenders, good support from Ben Seru allowed the offload to his inside to open the scoring. From the restart Apache retained possession well working play up to half way from their 22 but the solid defence of Wes and Joe Kava with his now infamous 52 chest halted the attack and forced the turnover. The Army were patient working through the phases to create the space and were rewarded with a 3 on 1 overlap; it looked another certain Seru score had it not been for excellent last man defence from Apache covering in the corner.

The rugby was end to end stuff with no area of the pitch being left unused, Roko broke through and with Army No 3 Jon on hand to receive the offload the reds went into the break 19-0.

This may seem a comfortable lead but we had been here before with Apache and know all too well that 7s rugby can change very quickly, Apache would look to come back in the second half and this they did, they started well with good territory and possession but an early try on 2 minutes from Maggie saw first pints to the Reds. Apache, unable to break through the Reds defence in the first half, had tried the chip overhead once unsuccessfully but the second time it worked a treat and lead to their first try on 5 minutes with the conversion missed there was a minute and half to go, plenty of time in a game of 7s and
Apaches tails were up as they gathered from their restart to break down the wing, excellent work from Knoxy saw a covering tackle metres from the Reds try line but the support players were on hand to receive the offload giving Apache the final word with a try in the corner. Fortunately for the Reds it was too little too late and the win and place in the final for a third consecutive year was secure.

The Army were looking to retain the Bournemouth 7s title for a third consecutive team, a feat not yet achieved by any other team in the tournaments history. Only newcomers Midwives stood in their way, newcomers they may be but certainly not to be underestimated having beaten Bath and Carmarthen Warriors on their way to the final.

Unlike all the Reds previous matches we started the match with the kick off from Roko being chased as always by Wes tearing up the wing, play moved up to the Midwives 22 and the Reds earned themselves a 5 metre scrum, a fantastic attacking platform which did not go to waste with Ben Seru crossing the line for that crucial early score. The midwives retained possession from the restart but the Army defence kept driving them back not allowing play to leave the Midwives half, Roko well known to the crowd now for his speed and try scoring abilities was now also making a name for
himself with crunching covering tackles covering the field like a ‘swirling dervish’.

Two further tries followed for the Reds from Zac and a Roko break down the wing to see the Reds go into the break leading 17-0. The Midwives restarted the second half with the kick falling straight into sniping scrum half Zac’s hands, he dummied through the Midwives defence to bring play up to half way and with Ben Seru on hand as ever in support to receive the offload and a wonderful 360 degree spin the Reds fourth try came on the stroke of a minute played. The Midwives retained possession from the restart and were trying to find ways to break through the Reds defence but for each attacker with the ball came two Army players to make the tackles. As play moved up into the Reds half they were awarded a penalty which Roko cleared up field to gain back some territory. Following the quick line out a long pass was intercepted by the Midwives who broke from their own half to score, the crowd were excited and the electricity seemed to be flowing through the pacy Midwives players who scored another two tries in very quick succession. The score, with 2 minutes to play was 22-19, it was anyone’s game and the next score would surely be the winning one. A thrilling end to the tournament for the neutral spectator but the Army heads camped on the sideline were looking at each other for reassurance, head coach Alfred is a notoriously calm man and his players needed to mirror is cool headedness. The Midwives had possession and shipped the ball wide to their own speedster on the wing, Roko propelled like a jet through the air to make the tap tackle but it wasn’t enough and the cover from Ben Seru meters from the Reds try line was all that stood between the Midwives scoring and certainly winning the match, the tackle came and he legally contested for the ball seeing the Midwives stripped from possession, the Army attack tore up the pitch for Seru to score as time ran out on the score board to seal the win and third consecutive Bournemouth 7s title for the Reds 27-19.

On this special Jubilee weekend, Britain certainly has a lot to be proud of and the Army 7s team is certainly doing its very best to raise the profile of this country’s superb military and all that it contributes to making Britain Great, Soldiers First, Sportsmen Second. Phase two complete, next stop the West Country 7s in Keynsham on the 16th June, see you all there.

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