The essence of what the Exiles are trying to foster, through the development pathway of the sevens game, was highlighted when young Charlie Ingall lined up against Ben Foden in Southend. Ingall, an 18-year-old schoolboy, had been part of the Ireland Clubs U18s who performed so well in France. Now he was getting a chance to test himself and learn from Foden, a Sale Sharks first team player and current England Sevens International.
Such development opportunities for these young players are only possible through the sponsorship of DHL Global Forwarding and O’B Sport our kit sponsors. During the tournament young Exiles such as Harry de Stacpoole (19), David Fenlon (20), Sean Flannery (21), and Adrian Lightowler (22) were able to compete against players such as Danny Care, Tom Williams and Charlie Amesbury (NEC Harlequins 1st XV), Ben Foden, Andy Vilk and Michael Hills (Sale Sharks 1st XV); all of these players are in the current England Sevens squad.
The Southend Elite competition on Sunday past brought together the top Sevens sides in England: Samurai, Marauders, Apache, Scorpions, and RLC Warriors were joined by strong squads from Harlequins and Saracens, alongside the DHL Exiles squad.
As if the competition was not tough enough, the Exiles lost two key players in the first two minutes of their game against NEC Harlequins; Michael Kirkwood, ‘Player of the Tournament’ at Carrick the week before, left the field with a severe knee injury, to be followed a minute later by Ireland U19 International Matt O’Regan. Both took no further part in the tournament leaving the Exiles with 8 players. Despite the loss of these two players and the reshuffle of the side with former Ireland U21 International Matt Williams going to scrum half, the Exiles competed well with the Quins matching them score for score until the last minute. Fresh legs brought on for the Quins saw them run in two unanswered tries in the last minute of the game.
Next up for the Exiles were the Samurai, coached by former England Sevens coach Mike Friday and current England Sevens coach Ben Ryan, a former Irish Exiles player.
The star- studded Samurai, with a squad of England Sevens players past and present, played some sparkling sevens with Foden, Vilk and Hills to the fore. Although the Exiles never managed to cross the Samurai line they defended hard and made the Samurai fight for every point. The Exiles also had their moments and were threatening on a number of occasions, particularly when Harry de Stacpoole had the ball. Harry impressed all through the tournament with his pace, quick feet and determination. The Sevens game will give him an opportunity to hone his raw talent and build his confidence.
During the rest of the group stage the Exiles competed well for 12 to 13 of the 14 minute games, and then the lack of fresh legs took their toll. They ran the Marauders, finalists of the Kinsale Sevens, to a 5-point margin and gained enough points in the group to make the Elite Plate knockout competition.
The DHL Exiles lost the semi-final of the plate competition in the second half when some of the young players, such as Harry de Stacpoole, who had played every minute of every game, had nothing left in the tank. However the players, under captain Matt Williams, could be proud of their efforts and showed some great play against the top sevens players in the UK. As Charlie Ingall remarked at the end of the tournament (prior to returning to his ‘A’ Level studies) it was such a thrill and learning experience to be playing against some great players.
The manager and coaches will now look at the injury situation and prepare for Amsterdam next week-end. This competition – over two days – is said to be one of the best and toughest sevens competitions in the world with 86 selected teams taking part.
Irish Exiles DHL Sevens squad: Nick Sharpe (Rugby Lions), David Fenlon (Oxford University), Adrian Lightowler (Moseley), Michael Kirkwood (Rotherham Earth Titans), Matt O’Regan (Northampton), Matt Williams (Pertemps Bees), Sean Flannery (Oxford Brookes University), Blane McKie (Southend), Charlie Ingall (Oratory School Reading), and Harry de Stacpoole (North Walsham).
Coach: Peter Halsall. Physio: Neil Boyd. Manager: Ces Shaw.