Army and Adlers give bumper crowd a final for the ages

Sheffiled Engineers advance the ball against Wooden Spoon Marauders.

Sheffiled Engineers advance the ball against Wooden Spoon Marauders. - Credit: Archant

“That was probably the best final ever seen at the Pub 7s”, enthused chair of the event, Bob Barltrop, after the above-average crowd for this competition had enjoyed a thrilling finale to the day’s proceedings.

The British Army 7s team

The British Army 7s team - Credit: Archant

To add icing on the cake, the winners of the Plate were Harpenden’s U18, parading under the name of Santa’s Secrets, and the final of the Barrel saw two local sides, Billy’s Bar and the Silver Cup, contest which proves all is well with rugby 7s in Harpenden.

More than 40 teams had accepted an invitation to take part this year, such is the interest in 7s rugby that is soon to become an Olympic Sport in 2016 in Rio. Additionally, there is a growing awareness that the National Pub 7s is a well-organised event.

The year before the next Olympic Games will also be a significant date in so far as Harpenden Rugby Club is concerned: it will mark the 50th anniversary of an association the club has had with the playing and organising of a 7s rugby tournament.

Sparkling rugby was in evidence throughout the day and there was a hint of what was to occur in the main competition as the British Army, with their multi-talented side based largely upon their strong running Fijians, came up against a young German side going under the name of Adlers.

Harpenden Roosters

Harpenden Roosters - Credit: Archant

The two teams had recently met on the European Circuit when the Army came out winners as they had in last year’s National Pub 7s final. This time the result was even closer because the match went into extra time for a ‘sudden death’ decider.

To reach the final, both teams had to play their best rugby. The Army narrowly won 17-14 against the impressive charity side, Wooden Spoon Marauders, who are coached by Howard Grahame – the experienced England 7s player - and managed by Barrie Torbett and Keith Boatman. Adlers met the Wasps and won 24-10 in a hard fought contest. Adler 7s, the German national team, boasts no stars but impressed and are managed by Manuel Wilhelm and his friend, Reiner.

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“We have many students playing for us and our grant from the government, in recognition of our attempt to qualify for an Olympic place in four years’ time, is the lowest of all the sports in the country,” said Wilhelm

“As it is, there is a lot of competition and rugby is a minority sport. However, what students we get come to us every day to train so we do have a good action plan in place.

“We have been going for two years and are improving all the time, gaining acceptance on the European Grand Prix circuit and forming a joint training camp with the Italian national team in Sicily.

“Our ultimate aim this year and next is to improve our European status and then go on to win the Olympic title in 2020. It has been a difficult period as three years ago we lost 48 school teams to soccer and had to start all over again.”

As to the main final when the teams were vying for the Singleton Cup, donated in memory of David Singleton, everyone played a part and it would be churlish to pick out any particular individual for praise.

The rugby flowed back and forth with the young German team scoring twice in the first two minutes, taking the Army by surprise. Four minutes in and the Germans scored another try to lead 19-0.

Then, Adlers were reduced to six men and, such is the strength of the Fijian-based Army side, that before half-time they replied with two magnificent scores to turn round 19-12.

A mistake in the Adler defence cost them dear after they had won ball off the Army from a lineout and the result was a try in the right corner that was converted, to be followed by a further score and conversion.

The Army now led by 26-19 and all thoughts were on a runaway victory. But back came the German team following a fantastic catch from the kick-off for the best score of the tournament, then another. The crowd was getting its money’s worth and, with the score at 31-26 and a minute to go, the Army wing stormed down the touchline, from half-way, to take the match into extra time.

Two minutes later Apolosi Sokia raced 50 metres down the touchline to give the Army the result by a whisker.