The squads for Thursdayâ€™s leg of the Singha Premiership 7s at Kingsholm, featuring Bath, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester, and London Irish, have all been named.
Youth is the key feature across all four squads, with Bath in particular opting for an incredibly young side, who are led by Academy player Adam Hastings, son of the Scotland and Lions legend Gavin, who only left Millfield School in June and was playing in the HSBC Rosslyn Park National Schools 7s just three months prior to that.
Hastings is joined by two schoolmates in the Bath squad, Darren Atkins and Josh Bayliss, who were both on the recent England U18 tour of South Africa. Atkins has already played for Bath United, while Bayliss, a blindside or second row, still has a year to go at school.
Owen Walters also has a year left to go at school, while Zach Mercer, another who was on that England U18 tour, has only just left Merchiston Castle. Meanwhile Jack Maplesden is at Bristol University and Alex Humfries is at Bath University.
The Bath squad are coached by Barry Maddocks and George Tavner, who both coach the Bath Academy, and Maddocks sounded excited at the youth of his charges, saying:
“This is a great opportunity for some of our young talent to put on the Bath shirt and represent the Club at Kingsholm and they are really looking forward to it.â€
“Last season, the likes of Max Clark, Will Homer and Rory Jennings all played in the 7s and went on to make their Bath senior debuts and represent England U20s this summer, so it provides a good chance to impress.”
Exeter have also opted for plenty of youth, with two stars of this yearâ€™s England U20s side, Sam Skinner and Stuart Townsend, both included in the squad.
They also include Jack Maunder, another member of the England U18 tour of South Africa as well as former Prior Park College pupil Pete Laverick and the former Tonbridge School 1st XV captain, Matt Eliet, who finished as a runner up in the Rosslyn Park Festival in his final year.
Like the Bath coaching staff, the Exeter Chiefs coaching staff were at pains to point out the opportunity that the 7s offers for their younger players, saying:
“It is going to be massive for us if we can field some younger players. In the past the likes of Jack Nowell and Henry Slade have played in this competition – and for the likes of Sam Simmonds and Stu Townsend, they know what this competition is all about and they can bring experience to those who have not played in the competition before.
“Looking at our squad, I know we have some real quality in there and guys who have played at this level before. I know if we can get the right balance we have a real chance.
“Last year at Gloucester the atmosphere was brilliant and sums up how the tournament has grown. There were four teams really going at it and the sevens that was played was absolutely outstanding. If you can bring some of those guys into that environment, it’s good for those younger guys and it’s also good for the more senior guys if they are coming back from injury. It is a good competition because whatever side you put out it’s going to be a good day for your club. I think it’s a brilliant tournament.”
Gloucester, the hosts and the back to back defending champions, opt for slightly more experience, with five senior squad members in their squad as they try to rise to the pressure of the home crowd. However Olly Morganâ€™s side still contains more than just a smattering of youth.
Included in the side are senior academy players in Will Safe, Joe Mullis, Elliot Creed, Jack Evans, and the magnificent Ollie Thorley, the Cheltenham College leaver who made his senior debut at just 17.
Also selected are England U20 fly half Lloyd Evans and Scotland U20 scrum half Ben Vellacott, showing that Gloucesterâ€™s Academy is in fine flow.
Steph Reynolds, the 7s expert, captains the side.
Speaking ahead of hosting the event, Olly Morgan spoke of the excitement for his young players and the pressure of having back to back titles in their pocket:
“The Singha Sevens tournament has shown over the past few years what a useful stepping stone it is for our young players, and this squad has massive scope to make an impact on the first team in the coming months.
“We have complimented our up and coming young players with some experience from the first team, in what is a really important development opportunity for them. This summer, after winning the last two, there is a bit of pressure on us, but there is always some pressure when we play in front of our home crowd, and no doubt it will be a massively beneficial experience for the squad.”
London Irish have perhaps opted for the most youthful squad of the lot, including three players from that outstanding Wellington College 1st VII, who won every single game in every single tournament they entered this year.
Perhaps most incredibly, all three players, scrum half Rory Brand, centre Matt Williams, and full back/wing Tom Parton, will all still be at school next year, as will Joe Cokanasiga from the London Irish U18 squad.
Three England U18 internationals are also included, in Johnny Williams, Curtis Langdon, and Callum Watson. Brand, Williams, and Parton have all represented other England age-grades, while Watson in the England squad for the Commonwealth Youth Games. Connor Murphy and Ross Neal starred alst year and are now moving into their second year in the senior Academy.
In an unusual move, London Irish Academy Coach Paul Hodgson is also included in the squad, something that Academy Director managing to avoid making too many jokes about when he spoke ahead of the evening:
The Singha Premiership Rugby 7s offers our players a great opportunity to play on a big stage in front of a large crowd at Kingsholm. We see this tournament as a key part of our player’s development and how they deal with the pressure of playing in a professional environment. There are a number of player’s in the squad who have played a lot of 7s and the squad as a whole are looking forward to the challenge.”
Squads for the Singha 7s Kingsholm leg â€“ Thursday 20th August, from 19.15:
1. Alex Humfries
2. Apolosi Sokia
3. Scott Watkins
4. Zach Mercer
5. Josh Bayliss
6. Rob Coote
7. Jack Maplesden
8. Owen Walters
9. Adam Hastings ( c )
10. Siva Naulago
11. Alex O’Meara
12. Darren Atkins
1 Sam Skinner
2 Stuart Townsend
3 Sam Simmonds
4 Jack Maunder
5 Pete Laverick
6 Ted Landry
7 Adam Worth
8 Matt Eliet
9 Tom Holdsworth
10 Harry Strong
11 Joe Simmonds
12 Alex Ducker
1 Steve McColl
2 Joe Mullis
3 Elliott Creed
4 Ollie Thorley
5 Jack Evans
6 Will Safe
7 Dan Thomas
8 Gareth Evans
9 Ben Vellacott
10 Lloyd Evans
11 Steph Reynolds (c)
12 Mark Atkinson
1. Ross Neal
2. Connor Murphy
3. Johnny Williams
4. Callum Watson
5. Tom Parton
6. Joe Cokanasiga
7. Curtis Langdon
8. Matt Williams
9. Rory Brand
10. Ryan Jeffery
11. Sam Bellhouse
12. Paul Hodgson