In the rugby world at present the game of sevens is never far from the lips of supporters, players and coaches alike. 2009 is a massive year for the modified form of the game of rugby with the decision being taken on the sport’s entrance into the 2016 Olympics by the IOC in October. Given the timing one of the oldest, most famous sevens events taking place in August takes on extra significance.
The Middlesex Sevens started 14 years after the last appearance of rugby at the Olympic Games in 1926 and was traditionally held in May at the end of the rugby season before being moved to it’s new date of mid-august in 2001. Bar the 4 years between 2005-2008 the tournament has always been an invitational tournament attracting teams from all over the world and across the rugby codes.
The top English league sides have always featured heavily and in its present form make up 12 of the 16 entrants for the tournament. They have not necessarily dominated in the way some might expect though with the tournament having been won through the years by teams such as St Mary’s Hospital (now Imperial Medics), Loughborough College, Metropolitan Police, Wigan Warriors, the Barbarians, the Penguins, Bradford Bulls and the British Army. Of all the top sides in today’s English game Harlequins from just over the A316 at the Stoop have won the event the most times, totaling 14 wins and they will be back to defend their title this year.
The tournament organisers have recently announced 2 of the invitation sides that will be taking their place alongside the Premiership giants. The first of these will be the side that many of the spectators who pack out Twickenham for the day will be used to seeing. The British Army won the event in 2001 and 2004 and after losing out last year Howard Graham and his side of South Sea Island soldiers will be looking to win back the trophy taking a number of big name scalps along the way.
The Army play in tournaments all around the world and have recently arrived home from an unsuccessful venture to Roma Seven. That being said the Army is a side that is feared throughout the sevens world and will be expected to compete for the overall title come August.
The second of the invitational teams announced is one that is sure to bring huge numbers through the gates at HQ. The Kenyan Sevens team have become a real force on the world stage in the past couple of years defeating England, South Africa, New Zealand and at this year’s World Cup in Dubai, Fiji.
With the players and their fans love for the game they have become everyone else’s second team, be it through their exciting brand of rugby sevens or their dancing to the Kayumbeta after tournaments, the call of ‘Lets go Kenya, lets go’ can be heard wherever they play. An invitation to this years Middlesex Sevens was extended to the Kenyan Rugby Union which acknowledges their place in the rugby playing elite as well as the their draw for spectators.
Kenyan coach Benjamin Ayimba will surely be using the tournament has an opportunity to look at players before the IRB season starts again in Dubai this coming December. When not playing in International competition the Kenyan side take on the title of ‘Shujaa’ which means that sometimes certain players become Kenyans for the day such as one Waisale Serevi who played for the Shujaa in Nairobi in 2005 much to the joy of the home fans.
The addition of 2 such great sides to what is already a tournament packed with talent can only help the occasion as the RFU and Premier Rugby aim to showcase the club game of sevens. If another festival of rugby with thousands of fans packing out Twickenham takes place as it did in May for the IRB London Sevens, the IOC will once again have to take notice.
The sevens game has made some giant leaps in recent years, and it’s due to this that the game is part of the conversation for the Olympic Games. To see a centre stage tournament that has been going for 75 years embracing both the new and the old, the message this sends to those decision makers in Switzerland is one that can only be deemed positive.