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Wet and Wild in the West Country

On a traditional British summer wet and windy west country day the Army 7s team headed to Keynsham Rugby Club just east of Bristol for the next stop of their sevens season. Although we are in the middle of the traditional summer sevens season the conditions owed themselves more to a full fifteens fixture in the depths of winter.

The first match of the Army’s pool saw them and the management trudge down from the warmth and shelter of the teams’ gazebos to pitch five where they were to face invitational side DS Smith Recycling. The Reds made an unusual slow start with the windy conditions not seeming to shake off the early morning cobwebs. All the play seemed to be in the Reds half but patience and good ball retention saw the play gradually move up the pitch and tries from Bunny and Zac soon followed to settle the score to something like what we had become accustomed to. The Recyclers were a physical side, contesting for everything and matching the Army crunching tackle for crunching tackle, a break down the wing saw them rewarded with a try from a pass back into play to take the game to 14-7. A further try from Army 7s stalwart Bunny just before half time took the Reds in 21-7 at the break. The tackle rate of the Recyclers continued after half time and they won good turnover ball which resulted in a well worked try which started from in their own 22 bringing the score to 21-14, a little too close for comfort and quite frankly a little too close than what we are used to. The Reds responded immediately with a well worked try from up field scored by Komaiyasa but the Recyclers weren’t done yet and following a good restart the blues were sniping trying everything to crack through the reds defence. The recyclers patience was rewarded with a further try bringing the final score to 26 – 19, time to take stock and look to improvement in the rest of the pool matches.

The Reds second pool match found them back on centre stage on pitch one against the Mavericks. The Mavericks won possession from the kick off but the Reds defence was up quickly applying pressure in the Mavericks 22 leading to an early try from Nayacavou. The rain was starting to fall lightly and was succeeding in covering the pitch and ball in a slippery covering making
handling conditions very difficult for running rugby and both teams suffered with effects with plenty of knock ons and spilled balls. The Reds secured two further tries before half time and led 19-0 at the break. The second half started as the first had finished with another try from Bunny whose pace is as evident now as has always been.

Maverick’s regained possession from the restart but a crunching tackle from Tamatawale to oohs from the crowd saw the Mavericks player crumbling to the ground and the ball spilling loose allowing sniping scrum half Zac to sneak in for a try. The Mavericks had more possession in the second half but trying to play rugby in their own 22 with the wet conditions saw the ball spilling loose on several occasions and Army attackers sniffed the opportunities with Ben Seru and Tamatawale both crossing for further tries to bring the final result to 43-0.

The final match in the Reds pool was again back on the outside pitches against the Sunset Warriors. A little sunshine was trying to break through but the heavy pitches had soaked up a fair amount of rain, at least the ground was soft for the return of Iggy Putty who is starting to affectionately become known for his ‘breaking like a kit kat’ on the harder surfaces. The Warriors started with intent and surprised the Reds with an early try, calls from the sidelines were to Wake Up and the mite and strength of Joe Kava rallied the response with two tries breaking through numerous defenders on each occasion.

Ben Seru broke from the Reds 22 to run the length of the pitch and bring the score to 19-5 on half time. Seru added his second early in the second half to settle any nerves that may have been on the sidelines in the first half. Workhorse Skipper Gerhard Wessels was linking well with the refreshed Putty sidestepping through the defence to set up returning star from last season Alex Swann for two tries in his debut performance at this year’s tournament. The Reds topped their group with a final group stage win 47 – 5.

On to the knock out stages where the Reds were to face French invitational side ‘Impact’. For those who followed the tournament the previous year will be aware that this stage last year was the undoing of the Reds against another French team, a case of de ja vu would have been a nightmare! The Reds held onto possession from the kick off and in the difficult conditions were patient working the ball around the park to allow the gaps to appear and for Ben Seru to cross for that vital first score. The Reds were holding onto possession but the French defence were sharp and were driving the Army back deeper into our own half, sensing the Reds were unable to break through route one Bunny chipped and collected his own kick to score a second for the Reds. The Frenchs defence was good but the Reds are becoming renowned for theirs too and seeing no way through the French side kicked away possession from within their own 22, a kick that went straight into the arms of speedster Ben Seru who punished the decision with another 7 points. The French saw more possession in the second half but the Army defence was up quickly forcing them to play rugby from in their own 22. The reds were as patience in defence as they had been earlier in attack and slowly the errors came from the French, the Reds capitalised on these mistakes and sealed the victory 35-0 with a further two tries from Wes and Ben Seru respectively.

The semi final saw the Reds take on St Pauls Pirates who had been impressive in their matches all day. The rain had well and truly set in and knock ons were a plenty from both sides. Ben Seru made an early break for the Reds up to the Pirates 22 but the Army were penalised for being offside and possession was relinquished to the Pirates. Mirroring the Reds opportunities from previous matches the Pirates opted for a chip overhead rather than try to break through the red wall, fortunately for the Army team the attempted collection resulted in a knock on giving them a good attacking opportunity from the scrum.
Zac was sniping on the fringes and nearly stole the ball for what looked like a certain try but the ball was like butter through the fingers and just went loose. All was not lost as ever present skipper Wes was on hand to collect for a long awaited first score. The Reds recycled the ball well from the restart sending Zac in for a try just on half time, 10-0 to the Reds, plenty still to do.

The Pirates, taking a leaf from the Reds book, were patient from the restart, working play into the Army half but cover defence was a plenty with Wes and Maggie working together to make the double tackles time and time again. The Reds efforts were awarded with a penalty which was kicked into the Pirates half for the line out, quick ball allowed a gap through the middle, exploited Nayacavou for a third Army try. Still time for more, Joe Kavas ever reliable hands won the restart for the Reds and good ball retention between himself and Wes allowed Ben Seru the break to secure a final score for the Reds. Full time and place in the final secured 22-0.

The evening was drawing in and the storm clouds had gathered, the scene was set for a perfect showdown in the West Country 7s final as the Army faced the best sevens players from the Super Sevens Series in the form of the UK Rugby Sevens ‘Allstars’, selected just for this competition. The tension was clear on the touchlines and the diehard rugby fans that had endured the terrible conditions were in for a cracker of a final. The Allstars came at the Reds firing from all cylinders, they were intelligent and astute playing the conditions with accurate chips through the Army defence seemingly perfectly weighted and timed to allow their runners time to collect neatly in the soggy conditions. The play was all in the Army half and wave after wave of attack from the Allstars was earning them territory one metre at a time, the Reds sensed this was going to be tight and every opportunity had to be capitalised on. Cool heads were required and Bunny reliable as ever sniffed a space down the wing to turn on the accelerator and gas his was to the tryline to secure first points to the Reds.

The Allstars responded almost immediately, Zac was the last man to beat and if it hadn’t been for the slippery conditions under foot the attack would have been weathered but the Allstars took the lead 7-5. The Allstars tails were up and they looked hungry, they quickly added a second try and the Reds were in the unfamiliar position of being 14-5 down. A score before half time was vital to keep us in the game and Seru and Wes worked together to keep the bookies guessing. There was still time before the break and the Allstars again chipped through the Red line, cleverly playing to the conditions to take them into the break 19-12 up. Game on!
The Allstars continued the second half as they finished the first, applying wave after wave of pressure. Their defence was up quickly, sometimes too quickly and the Reds were awarded with several penalties allowing them to move the ball further up the pitch into ‘enemy’ lines. Seru sniffed a break and snipped up the wing from a certain try in the corner but Wes was on hand on the inside to take the offload to work the score closer to the posts for a better chance at the conversion, every point was vital but unfortunately the conversion was missed. 17-19 it was all to play for.

The Reds were battling for every ball, every tackle and every inch. Seru and Knoxy were bullish in their tireless efforts to get the ball moving back up the field and away from the Reds half, the Allstars discipline was becoming strained and the referee grew tired of the repeated infringements sending one of their players to the sin bin for two minutes; he was not to return, and with less than two minutes to play it was no or never! The Reds had to capitalise on being a player up and shipped the ball wide from the penalty on the far side.
The safe secure arms of Knoxy were waiting on the nearside to roars from the touchline, our hearts were in our mouths as the legs pumped and he raced up the touchline to secure the victory with a try at the death in the corner. The conversion was missed but the victory sealed, 22-19, triumph through adversity and triumph against the best players the sevens series has to offer, the rest as they say is history.

On a day where the United Kingdom threw everything it could at them, the Army 7s team showed valour and extreme courage beyond that normally expected of a British soldier on the sports field in the face of the enemy. Next stop Newquay, see you all there!

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