Exiles bid to defend Middlesex 7s crown
August 10, 2010
London Irish won last year's Middlesex 7s title, beating ULR Samurai in the final © Getty Images
The 85th edition of the Middlesex Charity 7s takes place at Twickenham on Saturday, with the promise of more exhilarating rugby played out before a lively, appreciative crowd.
Reigning champions London Irish are just one of eight Aviva Premiership sides in action, with Harlequins, London Wasps, Leicester Tigers, Saracens, Newcastle Falcons, Leeds Carnegie and the newly-promoted Exeter Chiefs also confirmed for the 16-team knockout tournament.
Irish have named a strong panel with Guy Armitage joining his England international brothers Delon and Steffon in a squad packed with big names including flyers Topsy Ojo and Sailosi Tagicakibau, while Ryan Lamb will dictate the play. Harlequins have also adopted a big name strategy with England internationals Nick Easter, Ugo Monye, Danny Care and Chris Robshaw on duty.
Former England and Wasps star Josh Lewsey has accepted an invite to play from Mike Friday and Phil Greening on the ULR Samurai International side, who were beaten by London Irish in last year's final. Lewsey will be joined by specialists from South Africa and Kenya in Ryno Benjamin and Collins Injera, and is looking forward to the challenge.
"I absolutely love playing Sevens, not least because you don't have the confines of a game plan," Lewsey said. "It's just a case of playing the space and being spontaneous.
"I just love playing the game and I have to say I'm actually a little bit jealous of the guys that will get to compete for a gold medal in rugby in the Olympics in 2012. That's an amazing thing and it's great for the development of the sport."
As well as the Samurai, the tournament will also feature two other renowned Sevens outfits in the White Hart Marauders and the HFW Wailers. The British Army will also be present, as will international sides England, Scotland, Wales and, for only the second time in Middlesex 7s history, Kenya.
England head coach Ben Ryan is extremely impressed by the quality of the sides in attendance and is well aware that his players will have their work cut out in trying to land their first title.
"There are some really good teams in there," he said. "We've got Saracens first up and we've played them twice in the London floodlights in the past two years. We only narrowly beat them; they always take their Sevens pretty seriously. And London Irish might have quite a lot of first-teamers trotting around Middlesex. The Kenyans have got a sevens side there, and there'll be some quality top-end invitational sides.
"There'll be quite a few private battles going to establish who's the better: the Premiership or the UR Sevens. There's four international sides there trying to be top dogs too. We're in a no-win situation because everyone will want to beat us and they'll have nothing to lose. If they can knock over England, they'll all see it as a big scalp. But I'm happy to put those players in these situations because it puts them under pressure and it'll give us some much needed game time."
Wasps will look to Tom Varndell and David Lemi to give them a creative spark, while Saracens are banking on Andy Saull for inspiration. Sevens specialist Micky Young will be Newcastle's key man, while Leicester Tigers and Leeds have opted for younger squads.
Alongside international teams from England, Wales and Kenya, former stars like Andy Gomersall (White Hart Marauders) and Dafydd James (Gilbert Pups) are set to reel in the years.
The tournament, which is run in aid of the Rugby Football Union's IPF and RPA, amongst other charities, gets underway at 10.30am on Saturday morning and a carnival atmosphere is guaranteed, with the organisers promising as much activity off the field as on it in the shape of karaoke, cheerleaders, brass band, face painters, an inflatable obstacle course and much, much more. Attendance for children is free this year. For more information visit www.middlesexrugbysevens.com