Fiji's outstanding recent contribution to the Middlesex Charity Sevens survived the reinvention of the famous old tournament as a pre-season Zurich Premiership warm-up. The 75th anniversary event was won by the British Army, whose 11-man squad comprised nine Fijians and two stout-hearted Englishmen. So £50,000 of sponsors' money went into Army Rugby Union's kitty, but not a penny to the serving soldiers whose first crack at the Russell Cargill Trophy last year ended in first-round elimination.
This time the team, coached by Major Andy Hickling, had the experience of tournament wins as far afield as Nairobi, Cwmtawe and, er, Harpenden, under their belts. Their captain (he was, indeed, a captain in the Parachute Regiment), Howard Graham, was ably supported by a squad, most of whom were on duty in Northern Ireland as late as last Wednesday.
Graham, the man of the tournament, converted five of the Army's seven tries in the 45-21 victory over Newcastle in the final. Apo Satala, the brother of Fiji's World Cup centre, Vili, cantered two tries in the final while Emosi Naisaramaki displayed a cheeky hitch-kick that was worthy of Serevi. Having collected the silverware, Graham's gang, one of only four non-Premiership teams in the tournament, celebrated only briefly as half a dozen of them were due at Heathrow at 9.30 last night to return to active service. Another, Filipie Tawayaga, returns to the Kosovo/Macedonia border on Monday.
The line-ups fielded by the 12 Premiership clubs were prosaic by comparison. And Newcastle's chances of ambushing the army were crucially undermined when three of their stars Pat Lam, Inga Tuigamala and Michael Stephenson were injured in the semi-final win over Northampton.
The revised format was not much of a crowd puller. The wide open spaces created by an attendance of 17,261 were reminiscent of autumns past when Harlequins played their home matches here.
Quins, the record holders with 13 wins, apparently considered a friendly at Bedford more pressing yesterday. Understandable, on the face of it, with the Premiership kickoff only a fortnight away. Others made more of an effort. The Scotland loose-head prop Tom Smith made his debut for Northampton, five weeks after trooping off as a beaten Lion in Sydney. Sadly, though, the first appearance of Josh Kronfeld for Leicester will have to wait at least another week. The former All Blacks' flanker was deemed not fit enough after only a couple of matches for the Barbarians since his retirement from New Zealand rugby at the end of last year.
Smith covered almost every inch of the newly relaid Twickenham grass, which became progressively more sodden as the day wore on. Despite the inclement weather, the Army certainly lived up to their recruiting slogan of "Be The Best''.Reuse content