Esher Golden Lions showed up strongly at the Manchester Sevens on Saturday, running into form ahead of engagements in Bournemouth, this coming Saturday, and at the opening ‘Rugby Rocks’ meet, in Richmond, the week after.
Boss Chris Kibble took a 13-man squad to Broughton Rugby Club to take part in the Dallaglio Foundation International Cup, the event’s elite competition.
Grouped with the Irish Exile Wolfhounds, the RAF, Carmarthenshire Warriors and Northumberland, a young group put in a huge effort, finishing second in the pool to qualify for the semi-finals of the Cup.
A comfortable 43-7 over Northumberland kicked off the day – Ryan Brend crossing for a hat-trick, but later being ruled out for the rest of the day through a back problem – before a defeat to the Warriors, 24-7. Charlie Gossington’s try was all Esher had to show for their efforts in a game which, with a little more poise from the Lions, could have easily gone the other way.
The RAF were dispatched 26-10 to set up a crucial tie with the Wolfhounds, with the winner guaranteed second spot behind the Warriors. A nip and tuck affair was settled in a thrilling last-second move, as skipper Jack Cooke burst through from half-way to sprint home, with the Lions qualifying for the last four and a meeting with Les Bleus, the French development outfit.
The men in blue had topped a pool packed with quality, seeing off favourites Samurai Barracuda’s in an earlier round, but they were caught with two sucker punches right from the off as the Lions came out swinging.
Big Ryan Keates showed a startling turn of pace to dot down first, before Cooke doubled the lead. A quality French side kept in touch, just, but the men in pink went in at the break 19-12 ahead, the outstanding Chris Gibbs notching the third.
Despite plenty of possession in the second-half, the big French ball-carriers eventually broke through twice, winning the contest 26-19, but knowing full-well they had been given their toughest examination of the day. Indeed, they went on to blow away the Warriors in the final, romping to a 33-0 win, and claiming the £900 prize money.
Boss Kibble was delighted with how his young, but ambitious squad, dealt with everything thrown their way and was looking forward to seeing them continue to flourish ahead of two big tournaments in the next fortnight.
“Considering we had a couple of boys who hadn’t trained with us before, it’s an absolutely brilliant effort from the boys,” said the man who has led Esher to become one of the most respected sides on the sevens circuit.
"We played some good stuff early on, but it was against the French that we really came to life. Some of the new boys, who’ve never played for Esher in any format, stood up and they deserve real credit. Considering we lost Ryan Brend and Ben Axten-Burrett after the first game, and then Billy Harding later on, it’s incredible we remained so competitive.
"The French lads acknowledged they had been in a real game in the semi, and it’s just a shame we couldn’t quite sneak it at the end.
"We’ve been backed superbly by the Tobago Division of Tourism and Golden Holidays, and the exposure we’ve got because of the kits and such like has been magnificent. Hopefully we can build on this down at Bournemouth, and we can pay back the people who have worked hard not just to give us the opportunity to play in these great competitions, but also the right tools to be able to run a professional outfit, aiding recruitment.”
Won 43-7 v Northumberland
T: Brend (3), Cooke (2), See, Curtis
C: Brend, See, Curtis, Cooke
Lost 24-7 v Carmarthenshire Warriors
Won 26-10 v RAF
T: Udo-Udoma, Morgan, Gibbs (2)
C: Udo-Udoma, Morgan, Gibbs
Won 21-17 v Irish Exile Wolfhounds
T: Gibbs, Keates, Cooke
C: Gibbs, Cooke (2)
Lost 26-19 v Les Bleus
T: Keates, Cooke, Gibbs
C: Cooke, Gibbs
Esher Golden Lions: Jack Cooke (c), Billy Harding, Charlie Gossington, Tom Curtis, Chris Gibbs, Ben Axten-Burrett, Oliver Edwards, Ryan Brend, Ryan Keates, Jamie See, Rhys Morgan, Jay Udo-Udoma, Fidias Efthymiou