The Exiles DHL Seven impressed everyone present with the quality of their rugby in their first appearance in a major European Sevens Tournament last weekend, when they competed in the Heineken Sevens, the biggest and most prestigious Sevens in Europe with 64 teams participating.
The competition took place over two days in a large sporting complex on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Given their playing record over the past two seasons, the Exiles were one of the seeded teams along with Samurai, Kooga Wailers, Susies Saloon, Backstabbers, Corso Marauders, Mels Exiles, Millfield Old Boys and Bionic Exiles - all previous winners.
The DHL Exiles, playing in their brand new OB Sport kit, were unsure of what to expect on the first day of competition with their first game at 10:15 a.m. Their toughest game was against Moldova TU which was a very well drilled and physical side, the majority of their players being drawn from the Technical University where they are fostering the game of rugby. The Exiles finished the Saturday seeded 5th out of 64 teams, having played some excellent rugby and having gained a lot of admirers. Being seeded 5th, the Exiles were in the Silver Pier (the knockout stage) competition for the top 32 teams on the Sunday.
Sunday morning did not start well for the Exiles with 9 of the 12 player squad having been ill overnight with a stomach bug! It was a case of physio Neil Boyd keeping the players available to play during the day and he did an excellent job. The sick players showed great commitment to keep playing even though they were feeling ill.
The first game of the morning at 10:00 a.m. was against the ARRC Javelins, a multi-national unit (most of their players were from Fiji) from Army HQ in Germany. However they didn't get a chance to show their flair as the Exiles dominated possession through the aggressive play of Adrian Lightowler, David Fenlon and Gareth McComb. With such possession half backs Mark Bruce and Matt Williams used the power and pace of Matt O'Regan and Nathan Bressington to run in 5 tries without reply. In the second half, with young Harry de Stacpoole full of confident running, the Exiles kept to their patterns and ran in 3 more tries.
The DHL Seven progressed through the knockout stages during the day to reach the quarter-finals. To reach this stage in such a competitive competition demonstrates how far the Exiles Sevens initiative has come in 2 years. The Exiles DHL Seven are now considered a member of the elite group of Sevens teams in the UK.
In the quarter-finals they faced the Corso Marauders, one of the favourite to win the competition. The Exiles had run the Marauders close at Southend the previous weekend but in Amsterdam they had added 4 Fijians from the Army to their squad. What was worse was the fact that the sick Exiles players were weakening and flying wing Nathan Bressington couldn't make it on to the pitch for the game.
The Marauders dominated the first half to run in 4 tries while the Exiles struggled to get any possession. In the second half the position changed with the Exiles winning sufficient ball. The dominated the second half with Jonathan Lightowler constantly stretching the Marauders defence; he was tackled short of the line three or four times before getting a well deserved try. Then Matt O'Regan (pictured left), who had an excellent tournament, was worked clear on the Exiles 22 and beat 2 defenders to score under the posts. However, close as they came, the Exiles couldn't cross the Marauders line again.
To play in such a high quality competition was an excellent development opportunity for young players such as Harry de Stacpoole (18), Matt O'Regan (18), Jonathan Lightowler (19), David Fenlon (19) and Matt Burke (19). They were led by Matt Williams (22) and experience added by Gareth McComb (25), Patrick McCarthy (27), Adrian Lightowler (23), the Bressington brothers (25 & 27) and Mark Bruce (24).
A demonstration of the quality of the Exiles Sevens was the requests that followed the tournament by organisers from Rome and Hamburg for the Irish Exiles DHL Sevens to compete in their tournaments, making it a successful weekend for the Exiles in every sense.