Another weekend another tournament, this time the much anticipated West Country 7s down in Keynsham for the mighty Otters. The Gilbert Pups had shaken up the National Series by taking top honours the day before - now it was our turn to pitch our wits in the Sunday Social tournament.
The Otters are now a recognised and respected team on the 7s circuit. Now in its 10th year, the team started life as a University halls of residence side from Loughborough. As the years have passed, the O-Unit has opened its welcoming arms to all newcomers, creating an exciting mix of Loughborough old boys and a few other stragglers – myself included in the later!
It was an early start as Keynsham is a surprisingly long way away – the M4 just seems to keep going forever! – and the weather wasn’t doing much to enthuse me. Despite some last minute injuries, we still had a strong side and the team’s chef de mission Neil Fischer did the necessary introductions.
Our first game was against the Chichester Sabres, a young, strong and energetic outfit. The first game at a tournament is traditionally a shocker as no one really knows anyone, no one talks, everyone is still a bit cold, (insert more stock excuses here). The Sabres were a muscular team who played a very physical brand of 7s.
In the first half we simply didn’t get a touch of the ball. We were naïve at the restarts and missed key tackles. However, the second half was encouraging. When we had the ball in hand we looked dangerous and a try a piece from Jack Bird and Matt Smith clawed back some respectability. But the final 31-14 score was a major disappointment.
Following some stern but encouraging words from Coach Hubbs, we got our campaign back on track against St Brendan’s Old Boys. They may have been a much weaker side than the Sabres but we were starting to gel more as a team and a comprehensive 31-0 victory restored our confidence.
We moved onto the main pitch for our next game against Brecon Old Boys and we were starting to build some real momentum. They were a good side but we bullied them at the breakdown, Shaun, Briggy and Josh relentless in the tackle. We exposed them out wide and ran in several well-worked tries. It seemed the O-Train was steaming ahead!
The Sun made a welcome appearance as we reached the knockout phase of the tournament,. We were drawn into the Plate competition after our opening loss and would face Banana 7s. Again, they are a strong and reputable side on the circuit but our momentum was reaching a peak now and we proved unstoppable.
We learnt important lessons from the Sabres game and were now dominating the restarts. It seemed wherever Fisch kicked, my hands were sure to find! We won four or five restarts in a row and didn’t give Banana a look in. We racked up several first half tries which put us out of sight. They fought back in the second half but our defence was now working like a well-oiled machine. The final score 40-7 and we progressed to the semi finals.
We had picked up a couple of injuries along the way, par for the course really, but generally, we were looking in good shape for the semis against a competitive Old Redcliffians side. We had watched them beat the much fancied OBOSH earlier in the day so knew it would be a tough game.
A disastrous start put us on the back foot straight away. We tapped back the kick off but no one was there to claim it except the Old Reds winger who happily scampered in for the first try. It got worse as well, conceding two further tries to put us 19-0 down – their strong physical runners took their toll.
We did manage to regain some composure and fought back. Aggressive tackling and good support play lead to three scores of our own and had a series of shocking refereeing decisions gone our way we might have turned it round. But alas, it was not to be. The final score an agonising 19-17.
It is easy to blame the referee and I don’t want it to sound like sour grapes – Old Reds were an excellent side and went on to beat the Ladiators in the final. However, there were some criminally poor decisions which ruined the game for us, especially one so close.
Otter of the day was the irrepressible Matt Smith for his impressive try count and exceptional scramble defence.
But overall, it was a fantastic day. We played some great Rugby and further enhanced the Otters’ reputation as a force to be reckoned with. Next stop for the O-train, Slough 7s – 2nd July.