Chris Kibble’s Esher Golden Lions, in amongst an outstanding field in the Elite competition at the Greene King IPA Sevens in Bury St Edmunds on Sunday, won plenty of plaudits as they eventually finished runners up in the Bowl event.
After winning the plate trophy at East Grinstead a week previous, Kibble made a number of changes to his side, with a host of senior players making their first appearances of the summer. Guests Sam Hampson, of East Grinstead, and Mike Gillick, of Cambridge, both impressed. Another key man on the day was youngster Michael Mvelase, who was at Michaelhouse College in South Africa up until last July.
After losing out to eventual Cup winners Northampton Saints in the day’s opening tie, 43-7, the game against the Welsh Charitables would decide who would head into the main quarter-finals.
A nip-and-tuck encounter saw the Lions - once again generously backed by the Tobago Division of Tourism and Golden Holidays - down at half-time, 14-10, with efforts from the blistering Hampson and the Lions man of the day, Luke Daniels. In a gutting finish, Mvelase’s second try of the game saw Esher narrow the gap – with no time on the clock – to 21-20, but Jack Cooke’s conversion effort drifted wide to hand the Charitables the win, and a spot in the last eight.
The Bowl semi-finals, made up of the four sides finishing third in their respective groups, pitted Kibble’s charges against one the country’s top invitational outfits, Apache.
In their best showing of the day, the Lions opened up, racing into a 26-0 lead at the interval. Further scores from Hampson and Daniels after the turnaround handed Esher a comprehensive 38-12 win, and a meeting with the Irish Exiles, who had comfortably defeated their Nigerian counterparts in the other semi.
In a high quality final, in which both teams gave it absolutely everything after a long day of competition, it was the Irish who came out on top, with Cooke’s yellow-carding late on in the match proving to be crucial. Hampson, Cooke and Daniels all crossed for three superb solo efforts but with the sides deadlocked at 19-19 with seconds to go, the Exiles went over in the corner to claim the silverware.
Head coach Kibble was proud of the efforts of his young side, and having raised the performance levels to prove more than a match for some very good squads in Bury, looked forward to a successful summer.
“We knew we would be tested to the limit, but that’s what we want – we want to go out of our comfort zone and play against the best on the circuit, and we did that today,” he said.
“The Premiership teams were a class above, as we knew they would be, but we didn’t let Northampton have it all their own way in the first half, and with a bit more control we should have beaten the Charitables. That we didn’t beat the Irish lads in the last game of the day was disappointing as we more than had it in us to do it, but we’ve learnt a lot and it’s more experience in the bag for the lads who are new to it all.
“We will have a look at things early next week and build for another big event at Rosslyn Park on Thursday, but we are in a good place. Sam Hampson is obviously at home at the top end of the sevens game, and with a few more to come back, we should be even stronger – and we will have to be, coming up against the likes of Wasps and the Army.”
Northampton Saints 43-7 Esher Golden Lions
T: Penalty; C: Wilson
Esher Golden Lions 20-21 Welsh Charitables