British Army claim last-gasp victory at Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club Sevens but defeated finalists Samurai win overall Wow Hydrate Super Sevens Series men's elite title
There were thrills and spills right to the last minute of Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club's concluding leg of the Wow Hydrate Super Sevens Series, to delight another large crowd at the Haberden.
With 700 pre-sale tickets sold ahead of a busy day for volunteers on the gate, estimations suggested there was approaching 2,000 people watching Saturday's festival return from its Covid-enforced hiatus – having been eventually cancelled after several attempts last year.
A later date in the calendar, having usually held a May bank holiday slot, eventually saw Premiership giants Leicester Tigers decide against competing with their advertised team to avoid disrupting their 15-a-side pre-season.
Another of Bury's billed attractions, the international team of Nigeria Exiles, were also not present in Suffolk following Covid-19 cases.
But with the forecast rain staying away it mattered little as friends were reunited at the Haberden once again to feast on the fast and furious spectacle provided by some of the best sevens players around.
The 16-team Elite Men's competition saw two clear victors in the semi-finals. British Army defeated Samurai Barracuda – led from the touchline by Bury's new head coach Jacob Ford – 31-12. Samurai themselves – under the guidance of the Wolfpack's director of rugby Nick Wakley and featuring six players set to play for Bury in the upcoming campaign – thrashed Ealing Trailfinders 40-7.
The final itself, the last of 56 games on the day, certainly provided a fitting finale as British Army came from behind right at the death in a nip-and-tuck affair.
Samurai had led throughout the second half but they paid the price for a misplaced pass in the final minute. The crowd were left in awe as Solodrau Radianirova ran from inside his own half, just about having the legs to get over in the left corner ahead of his pursuer.
It meant a 24-21 victory for British Army to claim the tournament trophy with Radianirova taking the player of the day prize.
But there were still celebrations to come for the Bury contingent in the Samurai team and their team-mates as they were crowned Super Sevens Series champions following the four legs – also taking in Aldershot, Newbury and Nottingham – on points difference from their final conquerors.
With Samurai Sportswear founder Terry Sands Bury's performance director it was akin to a home victory in the series.
It was also a close affair in the final for their female side – featuring Bury Foxes' Stephanie Durrant – who knew whoever won the Women's showpiece, against Ramblin Jesters, would be crowned series winners. But it was the Jesters who eventually prevailed, 17-7.
Samurai Academy, coached by former Bury Pro-Am director Kevin Maggs, completed their trio of sides and overcame the hosts' Bury Barbarians team in the Open competition final, 40-12.
Chris Roberts, a coach who was instrumental organising the Samurai teams for the tournament, on what is their 25th anniversary, said he was 'really proud' of all their players and was delighted to take the series win.
"It has been quite exciting for us this year, entering two teams into the series," he said. "We had Samurai Barracudas involved as well and they have gone tremendously well.
"There has been a lot of hard work and today we had the academy here as well, so there was a huge number of (our) players which fits in with our ethos of giving players opportunities."
He added: "We always target the Super Sevens Series domestically and although we didn't win the battle today with the Army we won the war and we got the title back, so it was bittersweet in many ways.
"It is an awesome tournament, Bury is my favourite without a doubt. The club put a tremendous amount of hard work in and it is rewarded.
"It is amazing to see all the spectators and you've got the British & Irish Lions playing in the background but people are actually watching the sevens.
"I said at the start of the day that genuinely I would have come here as a spectator as it is all set up so brilliantly."
The Men's Plate, for sides who were knocked out in the group stages, was won by Ramblin Jesters, who beat Royal Navy 38-5.
The tournament took place across three pitches this year instead of two and Bury St Edmunds RUFC's facilities manager, Alex Threadkell, was delighted with how it went.
She said: "It has been really good. The crowd have been great, the teams have been great and all our volunteers that have helped out to set up have been absolutely fantastic; without those we couldn't have done it.
"And the weather has been absolutely superb, from what was a really terrible forecast at the beginning of the week it has actually turned out to be a really good day, so we're really happy.
"We had a company called Zoono who are based in Bury St Edmunds and they came and did a deep clean of the whole of the club area with their anti-bacterial fog. And they very kindly gave us all of our anti-bacterial handwashes as well."
Meanwhile, one half of the club's new main sponsors, Jules Arthur of Logan Capital Advisors, flew in from his base in California in the USA to join the other, Gordon Ellis of Merrifields to take in the famed hospitality at the tournament.
The former youth players at the club came together to provide sponsorship through their companies. Both had fathers who were among the 18 club members killed in the 1974 Paris air disaster.