Olney – a Sevens’ day wonder…
…although hardly a seven day wonder.
Coventry were obviously keen to retain their trophy but I’m not so sure that was necessarily the most important thing to have come out of the day, however good it was to win the overall tournament again.
Whilst not especially significant in itself, other than providing a winning start to the season for the second year running, it was the first real opportunity for pretty much the whole squad to get together prior to training beginning in earnest the first week in July.
As a bonding exercise early on pre-season, well it would have been hard to find anything else quite as effective.
It’s all about building on strong foundations…
Those who weren’t involved encouraged those who were as they watched their teammates win all seven games, growing in confidence as the afternoon progressed.
As was the case last year, non-participating players seemed to have been encouraged to go tropical in terms of their shirt attire and there was some particularly tasteful, and indeed tasteless, attire on display, although unlike last year there was no obvious winner of the ‘shit shirt’, an honour which in my humble opinion went to none other than George Oram 12 months ago, and by a country mile too.
The players had met up on the Friday and enjoyed an evening together prior to the tournament on Saturday. It all seemed very relaxed in the Cov camp – plenty of liquid refreshment of one kind for those not playing, even more of another for those who wore the shirt on what became a hot a sultry June afternoon.
Fluid intake was pretty high amongst both groups!
Cov’s base camp, situated amongst the prime real estate alongside Pitch 1, afforded the players some shade if needed, although most seemed to favour the sun for much of the day. Over the course of the game, Cov played on 4 different pitches and so were often moving from one to another, with probably no more than 50 minutes at the most between games, often less. Olney RFC are blessed to have the space available to have that amount of pitches at their disposal but, in fairness, they are used regularly and the club seems to be everything you’d want of a community-based set-up, with cricket and football pitches also part of the sporting package on offer.
The Olney 7s have been in existence for many years now, having first begun, I think, back in 2007. It is extremely well-organised and managed, no mean feat when so many teams are involved in several competitions that run alongside the Open Tournament. There are events for everyone, from veterans to ladies to the serious sevens’ players – it all runs seamlessly and it’s what makes the whole tournament so interesting and enjoyable for those watching…
…one minute you’re enjoying the spectacle of the ladies of Dobby’s Dodgers take on those of the English Uni’s Sports 7s, the next it’s over to another pitch to watch Coventry Nighthawks play a Jamaica Development side.
The rugby community is out in force in a day that sees professional players rub shoulders with the most amateur of players.
And the game is all the better for it.
But don’t be fooled into thinking the standard of rugby on offer at the Olney 7s isn’t that great.
In the Open competition there were several teams that play Sevens rugby regularly and are far more practised in the game than Coventry, being well-drilled and including some very accomplished players. Indeed, in the past the winners have qualified for the regional finals of the national competition.
Despite winning all their games, Coventry were made to work hard in several rounds and only a try in the last play of the game against English Universities Sports 7s gave them a respectable 8 point win over a very competent and competitive student side.
Events like this don’t happen without months of planning and it was clear that no detail had been spared in ensuring the day went as smoothly as possible.
Small things made such a difference, like the very many volunteers who spent all afternoon clearing up litter from around the pitches, especially the water bottles, strapping and other match-related detritus that inevitably piles up on such occasions. And they all did so with a smile and a few welcoming words.
And as the above tweet suggests, the clean up afterwards took some planning, too…
The car park was overseen by some of the junior club members and there was catering in situ – enough to feed a small army from the ubiquitous burgers to the more exotic Jamaica chicken dishes. And all reasonably priced and without the long queues that often plague such outdoor events.
There were a host of match officials involved as well, all from the East Midlands Referees Society, I believe. They did an exceptional job and certainly in the games I watched, they officiated extremely well despite the odd bit of provocation from on and off the field!
I did feel for the organisers, though, as only the night before a number of teams had dropped out of the Open Tournament resulting in some last minute rejigging of the day’s programme of matches.
Four pools (two of four teams and two of three) had to be condensed into two (of six and five teams respectively). That would have meant a late night/early morning for one or two folk as all the official timings of the various games had to be changed and new documentation produced – and done so at very short notice.
I guess the greatest compliment I can offer is that other than the programme being incorrect, you would never have known there had been a problem.
Rowland Winter’s dad, Tom, is a stalwart of Olney Rugby Club and in the programme notes the club President credits him for the ‘meticulous planning and eye for detail’ involved in making the event such a success – two skills which I guess RW has inherited from his dad, given what we’ve seen of the changes at Cov in the past two seasons.
I actually thought that Coventry performances this year were overall better than those of twelve months ago. As was the case back then, Cov took a bit of time to settle having had no prior preparation at all and having met as a group for the first time this season only the night before – there had been no training/pre-tournament practises at all in the weeks./days leading up to the event.
RW decided to involve just 3 of the players recruited during the close season – Junior Bulumakau, Will Flinn and Tim Bitirim. Junior B played in some of the opening rounds, although I don’t think he featured in the knockout stages, but he did enough to suggest he’ll be a handful for most defences in the Championship. He’s a very strong, direct runner, not unlike Rob Knox in some respects, and he looked very sharp for the brief time he was on the pitch. Flinn and Bitirim played more and made important contributions.
Bitirim in particular impressed, a real live-wire with good pace and able to spot the gap – and certainly combative, too. Everyone played their part as you’d expect in a side that won the tournament and in several games a different 6 or 7 started the second half to that which began the first.
The likes of Tom Jubb, Will Maisey, Rob Knox, Scott Tolmie, Pete White and Ben Palmer all looked really comfortable playing 7s and they all seemed to relish being out there with plenty of banter going on between the players on the pitch and from those off it. They were clearly out to win it and the likes of Pete White and Ben Palmer were just as feisty as you’d expect, but there were certainly one or two light-hearted moments as well.
Good, too, to see Jack Preece doing what Jack Preece does best. Nothing fancy and no running the length of the pitch to score but several times he turned over opposition ball or broke the tackle to set someone free.
Rob Knox was voted ‘Player of the Tournament’ – not a difficult decision I imagine given that he caused so much panic in the opposition defences at times, taking several players with him and proving a real hit with the spectators who really enjoyed his physicality – a welcome contrast to so many budding speed merchants who so often dominate 7s tournaments.
He appeared to really enjoy himself, at one point leading the non-playing squad members in an Icelandic style chant from on the pitch just prior to the start of a game. Great stuff:
Two players who really caught my eye were actually from last year’s development squad – James Neal and Louis Roach. Both have terrific pace and like nothing better than to run at the opposition.
After having just come out of what appeared to be something of an injury-ridden season, Roach looked particularly impressive. He is a really smooth, silky runner and in a one-on-one, he invariably seemed to beat his man. If he can stay fit it wouldn’t surprise me to see him included in one or two of the squads for the cup games.
Whilst Rowland Winter was present, I’m not altogether sure he was needed that much with the players seeming to self-manage much of what they did. New Development Squad/A Team Head Coach Ross Stewart seemed to be rather more involved and doubtless he will have been impressed with much of what he saw from the players he is likely to be working with for much of the season.
It was also great to see Rowland Winter with his family, able to sit and relax with his kids and not have to worry unduly about what was happening on the pitch. Such occasions are, and always should be, a reminder that rugby is secondary to the most important things in life…family and friends.
For all the players involved, it was a great workout.
However, he still found time to produce all the Twitter feeds that will have kept those not present informed of the results as the tournament progressed.
And he doesn’t make any typos either…
The players clearly were feeling it by the end of the day. Having had 50 minutes rest following the semi-final, one or two players got up fairly gingerly in readiness for the deciding game and Ben Palmer mentioned how much his ankles and knees were feeling it in the latter stages.
The good news, though, is that unlike last year when Max Trimble picked up an injury that saw him unable to start the season proper, no one appeared to suffer any undue knocks or bumps. Trimble himself was enjoying his day from the sidelines, resplendent in a matching hat/top/shorts and appearing to enjoy the hospitality more than most.
For the new players it was a chance to ‘meet and greet’. Whilst probably less than half the players present were actively involved in the Sevens, the decision to get everyone together for a couple of days must surely have been the right one and the squad will be all the stronger for that.
And if Ben Nutley’s tweet on Sunday concerning a suggested warm-up/training routine is anything to go by, the players are definitely coming together already:
@CoventryRugby one for us 😂🔥— Ben Nutley (@BenNutley7) June 24, 2018
That ‘us’ so early on in the season, coming as it does from one of the high profile summer recruits, is just what you’d hope to see from such an experienced player…
…and as a spectator, I wouldn’t mind seeing the actual warm-up in the build-up to the Moseley game, either.
Olney 7s – another trophy in the cabinet then, as well as an important opportunity for the players to get to know each other off the field as well as on it.
And maybe an omen, too.
We won the 7s last season and then went on to win the league.