RUGBY SCHOOL SEVENS: International U18s tournament to celebrate 450th anniversary

Head Master Peter Green (centre) with Jason Leonard and Martin Johnson
Head Master Peter Green (centre) with Jason Leonard and Martin Johnson

Greats of the game join more than 1,000 spectators to enjoy two days of action at the Close

More than 1,000 spectators enjoyed two days of top class action at Rugby School’s International U18s Sevens Tournament last week.

Champions Hilton College from South Africa

Champions Hilton College from South Africa

As part of their 450th anniversary celebrations, the School welcomed 11 teams from around the world to play on the hallowed Close where the game began, writes sports editor Zoe Ashton.

Rugby greats including World Cup winners Jason Leonard and Martin Johnson, along with James Gaskell and Rob Miller from Premiership rugby team Wasps and Micky Steele-Bodger supported the event, enjoying the matches and chatting to the appreciative crowd.

The tournament was won by Hilton College from South Africa, who beat Clifton College, Bristol 22-7 in the final.

Rugby School won Group A, with four wins and a draw but were beaten by Clifton in the semi-final. The hosts went on to win the third and fourth-place play-off against Nelson College, New Zealand 24-19.

Wasps James Gaskell and Rob Miller with Rugby School pupils Theo Lindsay and Hugo Johnson-Hill

Wasps James Gaskell and Rob Miller with Rugby School pupils Theo Lindsay and Hugo Johnson-Hill

Teams finishing outside the top two at the Group stage went on to the Plate and Bowl competitions, where Marlborough College, Wiltshire and Shore School, Australia were champions.

The event’s Ambassador was Jason Leonard, having been RFU President in 2015 when preparations were well under way. He spent both days supporting the teams and presented the trophies to the winners on Saturday afternoon.

“This is an absolutely magnificent opportunity to introduce the Sevens game to people and for young rugby players to play where it all started,” he said.

“There’s a huge amount of talent and among all the schools that are playing here today I am sure there will be a few internationals in a few years time, the standard is that high.

The 12 teams line up for the camera

The 12 teams line up for the camera

“As a prop forward I’m not really built for Sevens, the nearest I got was playing Tens and did go to the Hong Kong Tens. It’s a fast, dynamic and exciting game which is really on the rise in both the men’s and women’s game.”

Although he has never

played rugby on the Close, Leonard has played cricket when the School used to host Wooden Spoon charity matches a few years ago.

“It’s such a fantastic setting and always a pleasure to come here,” he added.

The magnificent setting of the Close at Rugby School

The magnificent setting of the Close at Rugby School

Spectators also had the chance for photographs and chats with Wasps Rob Miller and James Gaskell.

“It’s a really good occasion and a great chance to see teams from all over the world,” said Miller.

Both remember playing on the Close as teenagers, Miller with Cumbria U15s and Gaskell with Cheshire U16s in national county sevens. They have both been at Wasps for three years, after moving down from playing for Sale in Manchester.

Enjoying the games, Gaskell added: “It shows how much being here means to the teams when so many of them have flown so far to take part.”

The 11 visiting teams were: Clifton College and Marlborough College, England; Fettes College, Scotland; Hilton College, South Africa; Llandovery College, Wales; Michaelhouse, South Africa; Nelson College, New Zealand; Oita Maizuru, Japan; Royal Belfast Academical Institution, N. Ireland; Shawnigan Lake School, Canada and Shore School, Australia.

# For Peter Berners-Price, chairman of the 450th Anniversary Year, the Sevens is just one of a whole host of events, each celebrating a different aspect of the School.

Hosts, Rugby School, who play in white, finished third overall in the tournament

Hosts, Rugby School, who play in white, finished third overall in the tournament

While the Sevens recognises their sporting heritage, their 450th anniversary book ‘From Elizabeth to Elizabeth’ and exhibition celebrates the School’s history.

The Global Pass, which began at the Year’s launch in January, will see a rugby ball fitted with a tracking device passed between 450 Rugbeians all over the world.

Celebrating the global reach of the School, the ball has already visited the Outer Hebrides, Moscow and the grave of William Webb Ellis in Menton as well as the cockpit of an aeroplane.

Its next destination will be Hong Kong for the Sevens next week. It will return to the School at the end of September for their community day, raising funds for the Bradby Club and celebrating the School’s commitment to the community.

On June 24 there will be a Gala Ball on the Close, with 800 guests expected to attend the Premiere of their documentary. The film will be screened in several countries all on that same day. This will mark the start of a week celebrating music and the arts, with Dame Judi Dench as Patron.

Celebrating the charitable ethos of school, the City Dinner last week was hosted by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, an old Rugbeian. A maximum 288 sat down to the evening at Middle Temple Hall in London, supporting the Arnold Foundation.

During the year the School aims to encourage 450 people to leave a legacy to the Arnold Foundation in their will. The Foundation was started 14 years ago to enable talented, disadvantaged children to attend the school. It currently supports 30 pupils.

A national charity encouraging other schools across the country to do the same is called SpringBoard.

On April 28 a street festival in Lamb’s Conduit Street in London will celebrate the Founder Lawrence Sheriff’s bequest of eight acres of pasture there to start a school in Rugby. A slate plaque will be unveiled by Rugbeian AN Wilson.

Finally, on November 26 there will be a thanks giving service at Coventry Cathedral celebrating the School’s Christian faith.