As the 15-a-side season draws to a close and the silver polish is applied to the four Inter-Services Championship trophies, attention for red shirt representation turns to the Sevens season, and this weekend’s opening round of the 2022 Super Sevens Series.
Last summer’s competition kick-started what became a memorable nine months for red shirt rugby. The Army Men’s team won the legs in Nottingham and Bury St Edmunds, reaching the final on home turf in Aldershot, and only being pipped to the overall title on try difference by Samurai, who became familiar foes in one crucial knock-out match after another during the campaign.
The Army Men v Samurai in the Final of the 3rd Leg of the 2021 Super 7s Series hosted in Nottingham.
Image © Alligin Photography, Josh Drauniniu
And while the Women continued to develop their own unique style of sevens, improving round on round in the Super Sevens Series, they reached finals in both Richmond and Bournemouth, and as the 2021 summer turned into autumn, had eight players go on to win the Inter-Services Championship title a few months later.
The Army Women celebrate the final whistle of their Inter Service match v the Royal Navy at Twickenham, the first time the match had been played at the stadium
Image © Army v Navy Match
This year the Army heads into the country’s premier Sevens competitions not just hot on the heels of those Inter-Services titles, but also the Melrose Sevens crown, too. However, for Director of Sevens Rugby, Maj Jon Lord (RAMC), this Saturday’s opening round in Newbury is an opportunity to set a new standard.
“While we were really proud to cheer on our colleagues in the Inter-Services Championship we set our own levels of expectation by winning the Melrose Sevens,” he says. “This puts as much pressure on us to follow that up going into the Super Sevens Series as having the 15s team win the Inter-Services, and we’re determined to maintain our standards in Newbury this weekend, and then throughout the Super Sevens Series.
“Sevens is almost a code of rugby in itself, and on the Men’s side of the Army programme we largely draw from a different cohort of players from those which played in the Senior team this spring.
“Nevertheless we want Sevens and 15s to complement each other within our pathway, something we’ve seen in the Women’s team. We made a conscious effort with Gemma Stonebridge-Smith to improve players’ raw transferrable skills and were really proud to see so many of the same individuals represent the Army at Kingsholm and Twickenham.
“It’s also really good to see them want to come back into the Sevens team for the summer.”
Pte Courtney Pursglove, RLC represented the Army during last season’s 7s schedule and went on to have a fantastic first Inter Service campaign with the Army Women’s 15s squad, scoring two try’s at Kingsholm and a hat-trick at Twickenham.
Images © Army v RAF Match and Army v Navy Match
The Melrose title was memorable for a number of reasons, and not just beating Samurai in the final!
“What was pleasing from Melrose was to receive an email from a spectator who had been attending the event since 1989,” Maj Lord adds. “He said that he had not seen a more deserving winner of the tournament.
“It was testament to the style of rugby that we wanted to play.”
The Army in action at Melrose 7s in April, they went on to win the tournament.
Images © Rob Gray
After Newbury the Sevens tournaments come thick and fast, with the Super Sevens Series visiting Hazelwood (home of London Irish) on May 28th, Stafford on June 11th and then Aldershot for Armed Forces Day on June 25th. Throw in events in Bournemouth, France, Wales, Worcester and Norwich before the end of July and you have a schedule which brings its own challenges away from the field, according to Maj Lord.
“It’s fantastic to have a full schedule,” he says, “but with the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup both coming up later in the year the calendar has been condensed quite a bit.
“We have to balance rugby with the need to be soldiers first and the needs of players’ units, and our success on the sporting field couldn’t be achieved without the support of the chain of command. This means we’re always grateful for the backing of COs, and on behalf of the coaches I’d like to thank everyone who facilitates the release of players to represent the Army.
“This includes the players’ families, because each tournament requires players to be away from home both during the week and at weekends. This is because we are coming up against semi-professional, and sometimes international players who are well conditioned from playing regular high level rugby and we want our players to be able to both compete well and safely, which in turn means time to prepare correctly.
“We see the Sevens squad as a family, which also includes the wider families of coaches and management as well as players, and this goes just a little way to mitigate the time commitment which is given up as well as creating a fantastic atmosphere.”
The Super Sevens Series has expanded significantly since 2021, with core teams on the Men’s side now including Spain, China and Hong Kong as well as the likes of Samurai, Apache, the Lambs and Wooden Spoon.
Hong Kong has also joined the ranks of core Women’s teams, as have Premiership outfit Bath, who have integrated Women’s rugby into their club.
This means that the competition will be fiercer than ever, but Maj Lord would not have it any other way.
“The Super Sevens Series is another level up from the other competitions that we play, and the quality in this year’s Men’s and Women’s teams is exceptional,” he said.
“But we’ve never shied away from a challenge, and this is something to be looking forward to!”
Saturday’s pitch 1 action will be live streamed from Newbury via https://youtu.be/-1zxhWS-HHk
Words © New Dogs, Old Tricks
Header and Featured Image © Alligin Photography, Cat Goryn
ARMY WOMENS SQUAD FOR RD 1 OF THE SUPER 7S SERIES
LCpl Williams (174 Pro Coy), Capt Mills (104 Regt RA), LCpl Watson (4X RET), Bdr Dainton (1 RHA), SSgt Mullen (11 SFA Bde) (C), Gnr McAuley (16 Regt RA), Gnr Kadawa (16 Regt RA), ATpr Rees (3 Regt AAC), Pte Pursglove (6 Regt RLC), Rfn Green (7 RIFLES), Gnr Kasowaqa (1 RHA), OCdt Nicholls (Oxford UOTC)
ARMY MENS SQUAD FOR RD 1 OF THE SUPER 7S SERIES
Pte Qalomaiwasa (1 Yorks), LCpl Ratukadreu (1 Yorks), LCpl Nayagi (2 Yorks), Pte Tulele (1 R Anglian), Pte Suluaqalo (1 Yorks), LCpl Work (1 Yorks), Pte Drauvaki (7 Regt RLC), Fus LauLaba (1 RRF), Pte Ranatora (6 Regt RLC), Pte Nakoronivalu (1 Yorks), Rfn Verimi (2 Rifles), Spr McDonald (8 RE), Gnr Qorio (4 Regt RA), Pte Ratu (6 Regt RLC)