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Premiership 7s was a ticket to the future

Friday night saw the finals of the 2014 Premiership 7s at the Twickenham Stoop, with Gloucester running out as winners for the second year in a row, with a young squad that included both the England U20 and U18 captains.

That was what made the competition so special this year. It has always featured a fair proportion of young players but this year youth was the raison d’être for the competition.

The 7s was not always of the highest quality, though there were some special moments such as a coast-to-coast effort from Gloucester’s JWC winning winger Henry Purdy, but that was not the point for most teams. For most it was about giving these young guys a shot on the big stage, to give them game time of some sort, and, in the case of Gloucester, to allow a few young coaches such as Ollie Morgan and James Simpson-Daniel to show their value.

The truth was that that was all it needed to be, for the few thousand souls who braved the torrential rain to watch these finals unfold this was a chance to see the stars of the future play. It was a ticket to an early screening of a film, a privilege to be able to catch a little glimpse of the future in the present.

The names were unfamiliar to most observers, but to us and to the readers of www.fifteenrugby.com they are already well known names. In Gloucester’s squad alone the likes of Cheltenham College leaver Ollie Thorley, Dean Close’s Lloyd Evans, and of the England U18 captain, Sam Underhill.

They were not alone, Harlequins started all of their games with Peter Symonds’ Joe Marchant and Whitgift’s Henry Cheeseman, while Wellington College’s Sam Aspland-Robinson came on in both – he is one man that we will all get to see in his school colours for another season yet.

That list could go on, London Irish featured names like Cam Cowell, Declan Williams, and Theo Brophy-Clews, Northampton Saints were shorn of their U18s but still had time for a few who have only recently graduated from there, JWC winners Sam Olver and Howard Packman to name just a couple.

It was tough for some though, it’s a quite a move from schoolboy rugby, even schoolboy internationals, to professional adult rugby – even if it is on the 7s stage with most big names absent. The physicality is on a fresh level and that presents real difficulty at times.

They all responded to that challenge though, after all, it is 7s, there is no hiding place – even if you want one.

Gloucester were the class of the field though. They put a staggering fifty points on Northampton in the quarter final before toughing it out against Cardiff Blues in the semi and the Dragons in the final, no easy task given the standard of the sides the Welsh had entered as they made their bid for glory at the first attempt in the Premiership 7s.

Gloucester also had the star of the show, through another youngster, and indeed another Welshman; 20 year old Steph Reynolds. Reynolds is well known to rugby fans now but if his performances in the 7s are anything to go by he is about to become even better known. His pace was a constant threat, as was his instinctive eye and feel for space.

He will be in action again for Gloucester this weekend coming at the World Club 7s, as will Gloucester’s semi final opponents, Cardiff Blues.

Gloucester had already qualified before the tournament though meaning that there was another spot at the World Club 7s open to an English side. Harlequins snapped that up upon reaching the semi finals and Quins were desperately unlucky not to go further. They led the Dragons going into the final play of the game, however from that play the Dragons managed to cross the line and steal the game through Jonny Lewis. It was the only sour point of the night. Not because Quins lost, but because their exit saw many of the Stoop faithful opt to leave the stadium rather than stay for the Cup and Plate finals.

Perhaps those fans did not realise what a privilege they had on Friday night. Every pair of eyes in that stadium saw some of the names that will adorn the back pages of their newspapers over the coming few years. They definitely saw some future England and Wales internationals. They might even have seen a few British and Irish Lions too, that really is something to savour.

The really exciting part for us at Fifteen Rugby is that over the next year we’ll get to chart these players’ progress, we will also get to see who the next Thorley’s, Underhill’s, and Marchant’s are as we cover the schools circuit.

It is one of the great things about rugby that must not be allowed to slip. Anyone who makes their school 1st XV still has a shot at being on that stage this time next year. With enough hard work that opportunity is there.

By Angus Savage

@AngusSavageXV

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