On Tuesday 24th March, Reigate Grammar School began their Rosslyn Park Colts (Under 16’s) Sevens Campaign for 2015, in the knowledge that their coaches had prepared them well for a shot at the title for the first time since 1975 and coming off the back of a tournament win in the Queen Elizabeth, Barnet Sevens event.
Drawn in a pool with Wimbledon College, London Oratory School, Llangatwg Community School and a strong Ysgol Y Preseli side, Reigate showed some real class in convincingly beating all four opponents, scoring some well crafted tries and proving their mettle in defence, only letting in two tries all day. Ultimately they qualified with ease for the knock-out stages on day two, topping their group with a 100% record and a massive 178 points difference on the day.
As with any team, in any sport, a good basis of natural talent is certainly an advantage for a coaching team, but in rugby, basic core skills are vital and a real focus of Reigate Rugby Pro Paul Turner who works closely alongside Doug Cooper and Alan Reid in the school. Turner’s pedigree is second to none, through his own glittering playing career and also developing players as a Level 4 coach, and Cooper and Reid are great professionals in their own right. All three work cohesively, diligently preparing the Reigate teams for any fixture, and the Sevens team that appeared at Rosslyn Park was certainly no exception. Reid is understandably pleased to have Turner as part of his coaching team, saying “It has been great to have Paul working with the boys this season. With his depth of knowledge and experience of coaching and playing at all levels, he has made a tremendous contribution to the boys’ progress throughout the year, both in terms of individual player development, but also with team tactics and game management.”
Their players themselves all clearly understand the value of reading the game and using both hands and feet to put the opposition on the back foot and create opportunities where none seem to exist. On day one at Rosslyn, it was fantastic to see exactly these kinds of skills being executed on the field of play and coaches always find it rewarding to see players implementing the techniques they have been building over a period of many months.
On day two, the cream had risen to the top, and it was obvious that the teams Reigate Grammar would face in the knock-out stages would be a much tougher proposition. This is where the Sevens-specific training sessions they had implemented on the school fields would really come into play. In contrast to the 15-a-side game where a scramble defence or less structured game can be managed, in the shorter format with less players on the pitch, such a break-up of play could easily prove catastrophic if you are not the dominant and driving force at the time. With more open space to cover and abnormal set-piece play, a winning team requires solid, structured and manageable systems of play. This was exactly what the Reigate coaching team had worked so hard to develop to ensure it became second nature on the big stage at Rosslyn.
Full credit to their team for playing with belief in those systems and giving their all in every game, for they really are an aesthetically pleasing side to watch. In round two and the quarter final the team left off exactly where it had finished the day previously, seeing off Wallington County Grammar School and Wellington College emphatically, again conceding just one try in each match. In the semi-final, the quality of the teams was exceptionally high with Eton College scraping past Millfield School, whilst the Reigate team secured a more comfortable victory 28-12 against Stowe School.
In the final, both sets of teams were obviously determined to win but did not let expectation or pressure get the better of them as they produced a thrilling display of sevens rugby. Eton coach Ian Swan, originally hailing from Neath, had clearly done his homework since his side’s loss to Reigate in the semi-final of the Barnet Queen Elizabeth tournament, with the result that the final was a hard-fought and close affair. To the delight of the Reigate players and coaches, it was they who came out on top, winning 24-19 to lift the Rosslyn Park Colts Sevens trophy for the first time in forty years! Paul Turner was as pleased as anyone, having been on a three year journey with his players. He said “I’m very proud to have worked with these players over the past three years and I always knew they were a group of players capable of absorbing the techniques and skills I was passing on to them. Personally, I am not that surprised with the outcome as I always knew they were capable of winning a major tournament or two”.
All of the Reigate players performed admirably not only individually, but also as a collective unit throughout the tournament. Alex Skinner’s vision and Max Coyle’s outstanding finishing marked them out as two of the players of tournament. Lucas Overtoom’s restarts and game control was as good as any you will see over the whole month of sevens tournaments, Henry McCann bravely recovered 80% of restarts on the run, a fantastic and brave natural skill it would be impossible to coach, and Paul Marshall worked tirelessly at the breakdown. Joe Gregson, Ollie Brooks,George Blackburn, James Bennett, Charlie Bennett, Sean Watters and Billy Elliston all played their part in an impressive team performance over both days. This is clearly a talented bunch of young players who know how to focus in and achieve their goal on match day and anyone who had watched the Tuesday pool games would have seen the shape and ability of this team, and recognised the input of the coaches and the distinctive style of play masterminded by the Rugby Pro.
This victory has to be up there with some of the school’s greatest triumphs after what has been quite a number of lean years. There are now signs of a good progression plan coming into place with a supportive and talented group of staff who understand the need to follow it, and more victories should follow on soon. The coaching staff should all be immensely proud of nurturing a talented but unfancied group of youngsters enabling them to play with such skills and freedom, whilst operating within a prescribed framework and in a manner that enabled them to see off heavyweight schools from elsewhere in the UK. These players are more than capable of going on to further their own rugby careers in the years to come.
One other certainty however, is that with a such stability in the coaching staff and a solid rugby ethos developing at Reigate Grammar School, other teams entering the Rosslyn Park Sevens in the future should certainly be very wary of facing the Surrey side.