The Army has a long history of playing Sevens at club level and annually holds a major tournament culminating in a finals day at Aldershot. The competition used to be the largest sevens competition in the world and still attracts over 80 teams.
The British Army Sevens team was formed on the initiative of three players sitting in a London hotel having just defeated the RAF to win the Inter Services Championship at Twickenham in April 1999. Captain Howard Graham (7 RHA) raised the question with Barbarians Sevens player Captain Brian Johnston (Royal Signals) and Lt Rob Abernethey (RGR).
The ARU sanctioned ‘representative sevens’ later that month with the proviso that there would be no extra ARU funding. This in effect meant that until the team was established, and attracting sponsorship, it had to go ‘bounty hunting’.
Sadly through injury Johnston and Abernethey were never to play British Army Sevens but Graham, rightly deemed the father of British Army sevens, went on to coach and captain a team that was probably the best in the UK. In 2000 the ARU agreed to an RFU request to play a series of ‘trials’ against a resurgent England Seven—who were soundly beaten over a four match ‘round robin’ at the Harlequins Stoop. This led to the first invitation to play at the Middlesex 7s in 2000.
The core of the first teams fielded by the Army were largely made up by Fijian rugby players, who had been recruited into the British Army to help stem the shortfall of British recruits in the 1990’s. The Army was fortunate to have new Fijian recruits Alfred Vakacakavanua (Scots Gds) and Apolosi Satala (R Scots), both Fijian internationals, plus a number of young players who were later to make their mark on the international sevens stage.
It is worth noting that the team was titled the ‘British Army’ sevens team to distinguish it from other local military teams when it played abroad, which it did frequently in the early days.
Since the early days of the Sevens, the game has moved on and developed over the years displaying a fine filed of sporting talent. With the strong core values of the British Army and Rugby in general, the team is highly respected around the world and at home. In 2012 under the management of Capt John Voss and LSgt Alfred Vanua, the team set the unprecedented standard of wining every game in the demanding season capping it with a splendid win of the International Defence Rugby 7s Cup in Denver, Colorado.
The game has developed each year and it welcomes all members of the public to support the team, they look forward to seeing you on the circuit soon, please do drop by and say hello.
Authors: R Thompson and J Voss