Sun, Sand and Sevens for Sultan in Benidorm
Chief Petty Officer John Manners (Team Coach) and Leading Physical Trainer James Johnson (Team Manager) convinced (!) eleven sailors from HMS Sultan to attend the Benidorm 7s Rugby Tournament. Comprising mainly Phase 2 and 3 trainees, they were keen to be selected to represent Sultan in the tournament. The age range of the players and their experience levels varied greatly; some players, such as Ryan Scott, have been in the RN for less than a year, whereas others such as Andrew John have served for well over a decade. After many months of painstaking planning, this was the first stage of what was to be a very memorable trip.
A very early arrival at Gatwick Airport was planned to take advantage of several hours of luxury in the No.1 Lounge, courtesy of Manners (a frequent flyer with a membership card). This got the trip off to a great start and spirits were high as the Sultan team left the UK behind for the sunnier climes of Alicante. After a brief recce of the infamous Benidorm nightlife, the squad retired to the self-catering apartments to get a good night’s rest before the first day of the tournament.
On arrival at the tournament venue on the first day, Estadio Rugby Villajoyosa, it became clear that the players would be up against it; almost every team entered in the tournament was an International Rugby Sevens side or a mix of semi-pro and professional players. Manners provided some useful insight, commenting that he had seen several of the players from the Viator Barbarians playing at Twickenham in the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final only the previous weekend! Still, this did nothing to dampen the spirits of the lads and soon the team were warming up under the direction of Johnson and getting ready for their first game against a semi-professional Spanish team. For the first day Ben Chambers was captain for the team, given his extensive Sevens’ experience playing for the RNRU Sharks.
The first day of the tournament was an eye-opener, with Sultan’s lads putting in strong performances under Chambers’ leadership, against several international Sevens’ teams. At the end of the first day the Sultan squad had fought hard, losing 2 matches and winning 1. Taking into account the standard of competition and the fact that due to the busy tempo of training at Sultan some of the players had not been integrated into the team prior to the tournament it was a performance to be rightfully proud of.
On the second day of the tournament HMS Sultan opened with a Men’s Gold Cup Quarter-Final against Shamdong - a professional Chinese team who had won another international tournament the previous month. This time though Andrew John took over the captain’s armband as Chambers had sustained an injury the previous day. Though the result of this match was a victory to Shamdong this was unquestionably Sultan’s finest performance; the Chinese side put several tries passed Sultan, but they never managed to break the line, instead scooting round on the wing on seemingly rocket propelled feet! Sultan’s players held their own, with some truly great tackles from John and runs from Charlie Rigelsford against a very difficult opposition. Ryan Scott managed to sell a few of his famous dummy passes as well.
The final match of the tournament for HMS Sultan was against a Moldovan team. This was a very physical match and again the players put in some great performances, always contesting at the restarts and keeping the Moldovans on their toes with bursts of pace from the backs. The result was unfortunately a further loss for Sultan but the players never let their heads drop and saw out the remainder of the afternoon watching some great rugby.
The Tournament concluded with Shamdong taking the win and the Belgian Barbarians coming in second overall. After the presentation of prizes, Sultan’s players enjoyed the after tournament party and socialised with the other teams. This was a great opportunity for the players to get to know each other somewhere other than on the attritional field of play.
Waking sore and slightly jaded after the weekend’s physical exertions, the Sultan squad checked out and made their way to the airport for the return flight to the UK, arriving back at base late in the evening. Overall the tournament was a great success; though the team did not return with any silverware they returned with their heads held high, knowing that they had given everything they had in every single game they played. This was an invaluable learning experience for all the players, for John Manners as a coach and James Johnson as a new RN PTI organising his first sports tour. It also provided some of the younger players with their first taste of representative sport overseas and was a great opportunity for team bonding; indeed there were many lasting friendships forged on the trip. HMS Sultan RFC will undoubtedly be stronger and more effective for it.
Sultan Sevens’ Squad: John Manners, James Johnson, Evan Cringean, Joseph McCready, Andrew John, Ryan Scott, Jack Davidson, Charles Rigelsford, Kyle Ashcroft, Courtney Black, Daniel Wallace, Alexander Cannell, Benjamin Chambers, Benjamin Dobson.
Words by J Johnson
Images by Crown Copyright © PO(Phot) N Harper and J Johnson
And Royal Navy Rugby Union © John Walton