Rugby players across the country have been increasingly eager to get back into action over the past few weeks, and this weekend the famous Red Shirts of the Army Rugby Union will get their first outing in well over a year as the Men’s and Women’s Sevens teams compete in the opening round of the 2021 Super Sevens Series.

Not only that, but as has become traditional for this time of year, the home of Army Rugby in Aldershot will be hosting the Super Sevens Series to mark Armed Forces Day, the first of four events to be followed by similar days in Newbury, Nottingham and Bury St Edmunds.

With a community competition for Army and civilian teams running in parallel to the main event, this is going to be a festival of sport to celebrate everyone serving in uniform, and for Maj Jon Lord (RAMC), Director of Sevens Rugby, it will also be a privilege to have the first Red Shirt representations since before the pandemic struck more than a year ago.

”After such a long time it’s great to be able to offer the chance to the guys and girls who’ve been waiting so long to get back onto the rugby field,” he says.

“Not only do they get the chance to get back onto the field, but to mark their restart on the same weekend as we celebrate the Armed Forces is great for them. Ultimately they’re keen to get out on the rugby field doing something they enjoy.”

The Army Women’s and Men’s 7’s teams at the Super 7’s Series in Ealing in 2019

Image © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

The Army teams have been in training camp this week ahead of this Saturday’s action, when they will come up against some of the best Sevens players not in professional clubs. With names such as Samurai, Apache and Ramblin Jesters, the perception might very well be of a circuit where the sport comes second to the socialising.

However this is far from the truth, and between them these three teams alone have welcomed hundreds of international Sevens players into their squads over the years.

“The Super Series is a great competition,” says Maj Lord. “It brings together the best of our sport who are not competing at professional level anywhere else and the standard is phenomenal. With no warm-up competitions it’s straight into the first round and getting stuck in.

“From an Army perspective this could be a slight advantage. Our job is to stay fit, active and healthy, and our ability to come together quickly to deliver operational successes can help us on the rugby field to bond quickly and get the job done.

“Some of our previous successes have come early on in the season, and we’ve proven we can do that quite quickly.”

“The unique thing about the Super Series compared to the other competitions we enter is that it’s a cumulative Series of competitions. It challenges us to remain consistently at the top. Delivering one-off performances is one of the special things about Sevens, but to maintain a high standard over a Series is challenging.

“We see it as a journey. What we hope for is the small incremental gains which demonstrate our ongoing development. The key is to get the performance right for the first one and then develop from there.”

Despite the level of play brought by the other teams the Army has been consistently competitive over the years, finishing second overall as recently as 2017. And as rugby seeks to entrench its place as the sport of choice for soldiers, this level of expectation and experience can show that Sevens can play an important role.

“Sevens is a truly high performance team, particularly the men, who have been competing at the highest level for years and beaten national teams on numerous occasions,” Maj Lord adds.

“The men get to demonstrate year in, year out, the level that our players can compete at. That’s really important for demonstrating to the wider player base within the Army what we can achieve as a collective group.

Pte Ratu ‘Siva’ Naulago, YORKS playing for the Army in Rd 2 of the Super 7’s Series in 2018.

Image © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

“Sevens offers a great opportunity to do that as we look to move out of the pandemic and into rugby. It’s a different style of game, with more evasion than contact.”

This does not just apply to the men, either. The Women’s team is also a core team in the Super Sevens Series, as it has been since its inception in 2019, and Welsh internationals Bdr Bethan Dainton (Royal Artillery), Sgt Jade Mullen (AGC (SPS)) and Capt Gemma Rowland (Royal Artillery) could be available for later legs.

“As well as the likes of Bethan, Jade and Gemma, we have rugby league players like Carrie Roberts and Jess McAuley who have played Sevens for us pre-Covid and are representing their respective countries this year,” Maj Lord says. “They’re critical players for us and are unfortunately not going to be available for us this weekend.

“But that gives us an opportunity to bring other players through the system, and that’s the area we need to focus on in the women’s game, bringing more players into rugby, whether from the community base or other sports, although it may take some time before the team is competing at the highest level consistently.”

Regardless of the results, the Men’s and Women’s teams will be full behind one another throughout the Super Sevens Series.

“It’s exactly what we’re out there to show, that it doesn’t matter what gender you are the opportunities are equal, and wherever we are we want the women cheering on the men and the men cheering on the women, because ultimately it’s success for the Army. Moving forwards there’s very little room to consider competing in competitions which don’t have that level of equality, and we look certainly for the UK competitions to have a women’s draw, and I’m pleased to say that there are very few which don’t support that level of equality. “

Bdr Bethan Dainton, RA playing for the Army at the Bournemouth 7’s in 2019.

Image © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

International Sevens has suffered massively during the course of the pandemic, with the World Sevens Series on hiatus and British players needing National Lottery funding to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.

However this could present an opportunity for the Army set-up, according to Maj Lord.

“The highest level of representation with Sevens has been through the wringer,” he says, “and we don’t know what that landscape will look like – it certainly won’t be the same as pre-Covid. That’s an opportunity for Army rugby and our sporting programmes to give players opportunity to play full-time rugby or get one of those very few contracted places which may exist in the future.”

Saturday will also present the Army Sevens management with the ideal scouting day to identify potential talent.

“One of the main issues in the pandemic has been getting around to see players, and so being able to scout those players in the community competition on Queen’s Avenue is a rare occasion,” Maj Lord says.

“There’s always the chance to do a little bit of recruitment as well from other teams, to tell players that rugby and sport is part of the offering of service life. But those teams also give us an opportunity to get players who don’t get selected for the Army team a chance to compete at that level. It’s not uncommon for us to spot someone playing for another team who’s in a Regiment somewhere but who hasn’t had the opportunity to get spotted by our coaches and to then get invited into our programme.”

Entry to watch the action on the Queens Avenue pitch will be free, with the day’s first matches kicking off at 1000.

Please may we remind spectators to adhere to the Government guidance on social distancing.

HANDS – FACE – SPACE

 

The matches played on the Army Rugby Stadium pitch will be a closed event, no spectators will be allowed entry within the facility.

ARMY SEVENS MEN’S SQUAD

SSgt Ben Fulton (1 RHA) (Capt), Sgt Sailasa Vunivesilevu (7 (Para) RHA), LCpl Philip Graham (32 RE), LCpl Setariki Vuira (1 RRF), Spr Michael McDonald (26 RE), Fus Namusudroka Napolioni (1 Royal Welsh), Pte Josefa Qalomaiwasa (1 Yorks), Pte Pita Ratukadreu (1 Yorks), Pte Samuela Sese (1 Yorks), Pte Onisivoro Nayagi (2 Yorks), Pte Lemeki Tulele (1 Royal Anglian), Gnr Josaia Vakasisikakala (7 (Para) RHA), Pte Adrea Vasuitoga (9 Regt RLC), Gdsm Sekove Vuniyayawa (1 Bn IG)

The Men’s team will be playing Wooden Spoon Marauders (1100), Ealing Trailfinders Academy (1240) and Compeed Marlborough Nomad 7s (1420) during the pool stages

ARMY SEVENS WOMEN’S SQUAD

OCdt Green (Oxford UOTC), SSgt Metters (REME), Capt Mills (RA), OCdt Nicholls (Oxford UOTC), LCpl Palmer (R Signals), Capt Parker (REME), Capt Pearson (RLC), Pte Pursglove (RLC), OCdt Rhoden (East Midlands UOTC), Cpl Silcox (RAMC), Pte Standbridge (RAMC), LCpl Williams (AGC (RMP)), Capt Willis (RE), Cpl Wilson (RLC) Management – WO2 Lloyd-Christie (RWxY), SSgt Rigby (RAPTC), Rfn Duncan (RIFLES)

The Women’s team will be playing Ramblin Jesters (1000), Samurai (1140) and Wooden Spoon Marauders (1320) in the pool stages

Words © Chris Wearmouth, Header and Featured Image © Alligin Photography, Scrumpix

X