Sport Thursday, June 22nd Words by: Adam Knight

Here's Everyone You're Going to Meet At A Rugby 7s Festival (And Who To Avoid)

Sport Thursday, June 22nd

Here's Everyone You're Going to Meet At A Rugby 7s Festival (And Who To Avoid)

Rugby festivals, for those who have never had the pleasure, are almost exactly what you would expect.

Part-sun drenched athletic spectacle, part-Last Days Of Rome, 7s festivals have rocketed in popularity over the last five years with tournaments like the Summer Social and Bournemouth 7s drawing crowds of thousands on the promise of high-octane rugby, fruity cider and Diplo being played out of 18 sets of mobile phone speakers simultaneously.

The model for success is simple.

‘7s’ is a shorter version of the game featuring just seven players from each team instead of 15, but they still play on a full-sized pitch. In reality, this means much more space, which means much more scoring and, as a general rule, fitter, faster and better-looking players than you may otherwise associate a sport synonymous with broken noses and cauliflower ears.

Games continue throughout the day in a near-constant blur of neon, novelty shirts – while on a parallel pitch a ‘social competition’ unfolds with a notably less Win Or Die approach,  often aided by several half-time ciders and a team manager dressed as an Oompah Lumpa.

Fans and family see the all-day sporting experience as a good excuse to begin drinking with breakfast, sometimes in fancy dress, and by the time the live music kicks in, just as the games start to tail off, the entire scene often resembled a staggering sea of short-shorts and sunburn. V-Fest,  basically. But with fewer YOLO tee-shirts.

This Saturday marks the launch of Sundogs 7s at Luctonians Rugby Club, a two-day rugby party with a bumper lineup of bands and beers taking over the north of county for the weekend. The Elite comp has drawn teams from across the country (£1000 prize money pays its way towards a fair few Hoochs) as well as the top local invitational sides, while running along side the rugby will be Ladies Hockey 7s and Touch Rugby tournies and a whole load of live music that'llkeep Mortimer Park rocking until the wee hours.

And to top it all, tickets are on sale for the very reasonable price of £5 (£10 if you want to pitch a tent).

You may have noted that this also coincides with the first Lions Test, which, being shown on a big screen at the club at 8.30am, makes for a long day.

To survive, you’re going to need to be smart, and you're going to need to be prepared. Crowds at a 7s tournie are generally a total mash-up of the young and the older, the rugby novice and the grizzled veteran.

So here is our guide to who to look out for, and who to avoid, if you’re going to survive a 7s festival.

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The Social Player

 

Who:

The social competition is a broad church, if not a particularly elegant one to look at. Most social teams are made up 2nd-  and 3rd- team players, with the occasional enthusiastic college student brought in ‘for some gas’, and those players either too old, too injured or too generously portioned to have a right being anywhere near a 7s field.

Generally, the social players are a friendly and harmless bunch. Most of them are the kind of players that don’t get passed the ball much in 15-a-side, and so are positively giddy that in this abbreviated format they get to have the occasional run.

How to spot them:

‘Traditional’ boots, form-fitting match shirts that looks either two sizes too big or two sizes too small, and audible mutterings about ‘this not being proper rugby’.

Steer clear of:

The one social player in every team – usually the oldest or the youngest, but inevitably one of the worst – who cracked open a sideline cider in between his side’s first and second games. He will have done so quietly, but just loud enough for his team-mates to hear so that he can grunt something like “What - it’s only cider. I could drink these all day.”  

Four cans and three games under the beating sun later, and he will be badly struggling to keep his eyes open,  never mind get up to join his team for the warm-up before their next game. At best he will be irritable, and angry for the now-spinning corner he painted himself in to.  At worst, he will be sick on you.

 

The Non-playing Players

 

 

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Who:

This is a group of ex-players and current 15-a-side players who deem the 7s game to be too soft (fast) for them. As a rule they will get served at the bar first, and sweat bullets just carrying their round back to their group. They will start early, finish late, and be among the strong favourites to provide a streaker.

How to spot them:

Fancy dress is a good start. Usually something woefully inappropriate for the sweltering conditions, like a full-on Batman outfit. Otherwise they will likely be in flip-flops, and at least one Stowford’s on the go and spend most of the evening failing to instigate drinking games and ducking phonecalls from their wife.

Steer clear of:

Trying to match their early pace. These are the veterans of rugby tours and many more rugby busses. They can drink pints like fish drink water. Do not try and keep pace with them during the Lions game at 8.30am. You will pay a heavy price later in the day.

 

The Alickadoo

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Who:

A rugby club term for the 50-something to 85-year-olds who spend their Saturdays nobly and relentlessly supporting their local club. And then suggesting to any 1st XV who walks by them in the bar that they “should try and play more like [insert name of 70’s Wales’ international]”.

How to spot them:

Easy. They will either be wearing their club blazer and tie, in spite of the heat - or be looking wildly uncomfortable in wearing anything less formal than a blazer and tie. Flip flops, as a concept, have yet to penetrate the world of the Alickadoo.

Steer clear of:

The beer tent by mid-afternoon. This will likely be heavily populated with Alickadoos at this point, all of whom will have been drinking enough real ale that you better hope the tent is pegged down. If engaged in conversation with a half-cut Alickadoo, prepare yourself for a slurred sermon on how ‘back when I played men were men’, with various stories of dubious credibility about barneys, black boots and that one time he saw a prop play on despite losing three fingers during a game.

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Mini-rugby Dads

Who:

The precursor to the Alickadoo, mini-rugby dads no longer play, and maybe never did, but now devote their once peaceful Sundays to herding crowds of mudslinging eight-year-olds around a mini rugby pitch. The least lucky among them may even have been nominated to coach the team, a stitch-up by fellow parents that has led to little else but a car full of neon bibs and a severely-reduced opportunity to indulge in a cheeky beer while his kid runs around  at training.

How to spot them:

Mini Rugby Dads will have brought their kids to the club as part of a well-constructed and unspoken plan agreed en masse with other Mini Rugby Dads that involves them abandoning the kids at the ground to roam free and feral around the festival site, minutes after arriving, thus giving them a few hours of peace and quiet.

You will most likely see Mini Rugby Dads in groups - wearing Cotton Traders rugby shirts or some Kooga training top with ‘U8’s COACH’ peeling off the back - and positioned within eyeline of the Ladies’ hockey tournament, being badgered by younger versions of themselves for hotdog money.

Steer clear of:

Any group of MRDs steadfastly refusing to consult the instructions of a gazebo which is equally stubborn in its refusal to stand up of its own volition. A classic ‘too many cooks’ scenario, it will inevitably lead to five middle-aged men staring angrily at the half-formed structure, arms folded, for twenty minutes,  before agreeing that that ‘it’s not that hot anyway, the kids will be fine’, and heading to the bar. No matter how many gazebos you have successfully raised in the past, do not under any circumstances offer advice. It’s not worth it.

 

The hockey/netball/tag rugby teams

 

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Who:

Increasingly these 7s tournaments are multi-sports events. Like the Olympics. With more lycra. And often those competitions feature are mixed or womens events like at Sundogs.

If you thought male rugby players were a rowdy lot, wait until you see a women’s rugby social.

How to spot them:

Usually competing slightly away from the main pitches, you may hear the groups of ladies’ teams before you see them.

Steer clear of:

The one member of each squad – often a teacher – who can, and will, turn everything you say in to an innuendo. And get increasingly ‘handsy’ as the night goes on. Approach with caution.

 

The Elite Players

Who:

Although some clubs do enter 7s sides, far more common are invitational teams who hand-pick a squad of loosely-linked mercenaries to compete and then divvy up the prizemoney. They are the pirates of the rugby world, and showponies, to a man.

How to spot them:

Invitational sides have some of the best team-names in the business, to the point where there’s got to be an Internet Name Generator where you put in your hometown and it spits out at alliterative exotic animal or Old Testament warrior to pair with it.

Either, way, elite players are easy to spot, as they will be strutting around in groups dressed head-to-toe in stash emblazoned with their team name on. They can most frequently be seen Snapchatting each other (#squadgoals), or sat in small groups nervously comparing the top-speed of their Fastest Player to the top speed of their rival’s Fastest Player.

Steer clear of:

Any winning players (in the evening). They will more than likely just be checking out their bronzed reflection in your sunglasses. And if they aren’t, they just played seven or eight games of physically exhausting rugby 7s having eaten not much more than a bunch of bananas, a flapjack and questionable pot of tuna pasta. They are either going to get very drunk, very quickly, or fall asleep before you finish that sentence.

 

The Volunteers

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Who:

A tireless, varied group that will feature several committee members taking scores and getting sunburned at a pop-up table, and a small army of Colts players and uni students tasked with fetching, carrying and refereeing.

How to spot them:

Hi-vis jackets, a mix of dehydration and tired desperation, and – in the case of the younger volunteers – ketchup stains from running between the bbq and the pitch they were supposed to be refereeing on 15 minutes ago.

Steer clear of:

Anyone with a tannoy. In the grand scale of responsibility -  from army sergeant to parking attendant – wearing a hi-vis jacket ranks pretty low. And yet they seem to turn even the most mild-mannered citizen in to a Little Hitler. Double that for anyone with ready access to a tannoy system.

 

WAGs

 

 

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Who:

With players and teams travelling across the country to play, often their long-suffering partners will make the trip to support and rub suncream in.

How to spot them:

While not in the same league as their spiritual sisters from footballing sidelines, 7s WAGs do share some of their characteristics. Look for oversized sunglasses and cucumber slices in their gin and tonics as they do their best not let a bit of rugby get in the way of a good tanning day.

Steer clear of:

The makeshift car park, as they attempt to reverse park their red mini on the notoriously pothole-y 3rd XV pitch.

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