The Irish Exiles upset the status quo by reaching the final of the Bob Knight Memorial Sevens tournament in Worthing on Sunday 31st July.
The Irish Exiles upset the status quo by reaching the final of the Bob Knight Memorial Sevens tournament in Worthing on Sunday 31st July. This premier tournament (established 1935) on the UK Sevens circuit attracts a number of semi-professional Sevens squads, such as the Crusader Scorpions, Apaches, Bath Bandits, Voyagers, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Also in attendance were the Army; with a squad predominantly made up of Fijian players, many of them established internationals. The Exiles Sevens squad were in distinguished company indeed!
The Exiles Branch has only recently launched their Sevens initiative; this initiative has a number of objectives:
- to develop player’s skills;
- to keep players aged over 21 involved with the Exiles;
- to raise the profile of the Exiles in the UK.
The 2005 Sevens season was intended to be a fact-finding and experience-building programme for the Exiles and only involved playing in two tournaments. Having reached the quarter-finals of our first tournament, progress was expected. The Bob Knight Memorial Tournament was targeted as one of the premier tournaments where we would get an opportunity to test the Exiles squad against senior professional Sevens squads.
Fielding our strongest squad to date, including Ireland Sevens’ international Mark Bruce (who will soon be seen in Buccaneers colours in Ireland), we easily progressed through the pool stages. In the quarter-finals, the experienced Voyagers Seven were defeated 24-12 and, in the semi-finals, the Bath Bandits (who had looked impressive throughout the tournament) were defeated 24-7.
As a squad, the Exiles had no illusions about the challenge posed by the Army in the final. They are basically a full-time squad of Sevens players who have raised the Army’s profile by winning tournaments all over the World. They were in their final preparations phase for the Henley International Invitation Tournament next week and, as defending champions, for the world-renowned Middlesex Sevens in mid-August. Having gone behind 10-0 early on, a marvellous individual try by former Ireland U21 international Robbie Shaw saw the Exiles only 10-7 down at the interval. (Robbie was only outscored for the Exiles on the day by Nottingham wing Rory Morrissey, whom we picked up at the National Schools Sevens earlier in the year.) However, in the second half, the Army’s superior fitness kicked in to give them a 32-7 win.
Coach Peter Halsall and Team Manager Ces Shaw professed to being well pleased with this second (and final) Sevens’ outing for the season, not least for the publicity that it had brought to Irish Exiles Rugby.