Back in action! After a two-year break, the QE Rugby Sevens make a welcome ‘post-Covid’ return

Back in action! After a two-year break, the QE Rugby Sevens make a welcome ‘post-Covid’ return

Teams from across the south of England battled it out in the 46th Queen Elizabeth’s School Sevens Tournament – the first running of the event since 2019.

The day brought overall victory in the U16 Cup to Trinity School, Croydon, while tournament newcomers Woodlands School were convincing winners in the Plate competition (for sides achieving second place in the group stages), beating Tonbridge School 36–7 in the final.

Although ultimately thwarted in their three matches, QE’s own U16 side battled hard, their playing punctuated by sparkling individual performances, especially from rising star Taro Niimura, of Year 11.

They were cheered on by a good turn-out of Old Elizabethans, their numbers swelled by 2001 leavers who took the opportunity to gather for a reunion.

Headmaster Neil Enright said: “It was splendid to be able to host the tournament after a two-year break imposed by the pandemic, and to enjoy a super day of competition: there really was an abundance of skill, tenacity and physicality on display.

“My congratulations go to Trinity School on achieving overall victory in a close-fought final against Wellington College, and to Woodlands School on their triumphant debut.”

“Although we were disappointed that the U14 competition had to be cancelled because poor weather led to a reduction in the number of pitches available, we nonetheless look back on a successful day. My thanks go to the referees, St John Ambulance and the sponsors, Inspire Sports.”

QE’s Head of Rugby, James Clarke, said: “It was great to have the tournament back after Covid! There was plenty of excellent rugby on display, despite some challenging conditions.”

The home side faced a tough opening fixture against Wellingborough School. “Wellingborough showed a good turn of pace in finding any gaps in the QE defence and exerting significant pressure, resulting in our team struggling to retain possession for multiple phases,” said Mr Clarke.

“However, the match was lit up, from a QE perspective, by a brilliant solo try from Taro Niimura. Having been put through a gap by a well-timed pass inside the QE 22 metre zone, he ran the length of the pitch, beating at least three defenders on the way. One of the tries of the tournament! Whilst only a consolation in the context of the match, which was lost 29-7, it was a worthy moment for the home support to celebrate – including the OEs gathered on the touchline.”

The next QE game, against New Hall, brought “a skilful and spirited performance and a big improvement on the first match,” said Mr Clarke. “Momentum swung this way and that, with QE overhauling an early deficit to lead 14-12 at one stage. A clean break from New Hall had them charging, seemingly unstoppably, to the line, only for Taro to make another stand-out contribution, this time in defence. Sprinting back 70m or so, he made up ground to tackle his opponent just a few feet short of the try line – an incredible effort and demonstration of desire.

“Unfortunately, the supporting New Hall player was able to pick and go from the breakdown and get over the line for what proved to be the winning score. QE thought they may have won the game when an overlap put Year 11’s Dharun Thambiayah through to score, only for play to be brought back for a marginal forward pass. Whilst the boys were disappointed to lose a match that really could have gone either way, there was pride in the performance.”

After this narrow 19-14 defeat, in their final fixture, QE took on Dulwich College and put in “a resilient battling performance in which the rub of the green went against QE. The match got off to the worst possible start, with Dulwich reclaiming their own kick-off (think Mack Hansen for Ireland v France in this year’s Six Nations!) to score immediately. QE played themselves back into the game, crossing for a first-half try of their own. An unfortunate yellow card for a trip tackle saw QE down a man, but the two-minute period was well-handled, with no loss of score.

“In the second half, just one score behind, Niimura again seemed to be away down the wing with a clear 60m to the try line, only for play to be brought back for a QE penalty – the referee not realising the advantage was with QE in that moment. With QE pressing hard for a try, Dulwich managed to secure a third to kill off the match and win 17-5.”

Mr Clarke congratulated Year 10 boys on stepping up to compete alongside the Year 11s.

This year’s tournament featured a Coaches Corner for the first time, where there were stalls from a number of companies, including the sponsors, Inspire Sports.

The 2022 winners will receive tickets to a Premiership rugby match.

Among the supporters backing the tournament winners, Trinity, was USA Sevens’ Head Coach, Mike Friday. Former Sevens coach for England and Kenya, and a former professional player with London Wasps who captained the England Sevens, he has taken the USA to its current position as one of the very best teams in the world.

The group of 2001 leavers not only enjoyed the rugby together, but also went on a tour of the School with the Headmaster and with Development Officer Sharla Worrall.

Also among the spectators were other staff and boys, while teams of helpers comprising senior boys and some Year 7s supported Mr Clarke and his colleagues in running the event.