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Saints leading the way in establishing Sevens legacy

Travis PerkinsSponsored by Travis Perkins

Rugby Sevens has been one of the hits of the opening week of the 2016 Olympic Games, with the skills and athleticism of the men and women taking part earning praise and plaudits across the globe.

Team GB’s successful few days, in which the men won the silver medal and women reached the semi-finals, will no doubt inspire conversations and debate about how best to establish Rugby Sevens’ place within the British sporting landscape.

In the East of England that legacy work is already underway thanks to the unique partnership between Northampton Saints and Elite Insurance which is giving thousands of young rugby players the opportunity to compete in Rugby Sevens, often for the first time.

Inaugurated in 2013, the Elite Insurance Sevens Series was initially aimed at giving Under-13 school teams a structure within which to give their players an opportunity to try their hand at the sport. Since then the Series has grown exponentially, from four regional qualifiers to six, and from one tournament to four, with Under-18 boys and Under-15 girls having their own competitions in 2016 for the first time, adding to the mix with Under-13 schools and clubs.

This year’s Elite Insurance Sevens Series alone saw over 1,500 players from 150 schools compete, with regional qualifiers staged in Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, with the winners and runners-up heading to Franklin’s Gardens, home of the 2014 Premiership-winning Saints, for the right to be crowned overall champions.

It is not just about the day of the competition itself, however, with the Saints’ community team offering coaching sessions ahead of the day for both teams and their coaches, to try and entrench Rugby Sevens’ place within the relevant school or club.

Barbara Bock, head of risk, internal audit and brand at Elite Insurance, says that the Sevens Series has been a success already, and hopes that seeing the outstanding entertainment in Rio de Janeiro will encourage more schools and clubs to take part in the future.

“After London 2012 we all saw the power of sport to inspire, and we wanted to use the run-up to Rio to establish a new tournament for age group teams in the East of England,” she said. “We’ve got an outstanding relationship with the Saints’ community team, which has an excellent range of expertise in planning and delivering tournaments, and could not have been more delighted with the way that the Elite Insurance Sevens Series has grown over the past few years.

“People within rugby have not been surprised by how good the past six days have been in Rio. But the success of the Team GB squads, who have done very well against more established teams, will hopefully show young players that there is a pathway to the top as a Sevens specialist, and encourage coaches in schools and clubs to put a team together and enter the Elite Insurance Sevens Series in the future.”

Saints’ head of community Sian Haynes says that the backing of Elite Insurance has given the club the wherewithal to expand its work.

“The Elite Insurance Sevens Series has enabled us to work in a large number of schools, many of which had not been able to run a rugby team in the past,” she said. “Sometimes that is down to a lack of expertise in staff, sometimes it is down purely to numbers of children in a particular year, but the Sevens Series has shown them that you don’t need 20 or 30 rugby players in an age group to take part in a tournament, and our coach-the-coach sessions have been very popular.

“Being able to expand into the Under-18 age group for boys was an aim for us, especially because those youngsters who were in the first Sevens Series are now approaching this older age group, and to have a girls tournament for the first time was particularly exciting for us.

“The level of play in Rio was outstanding, and while we’re proud of Team GB’s silver I think that everyone watching will have recognised the excellence of the Fijian team that won gold. Hopefully this can inspire more people to take up the sport and for schools and clubs to give their players the opportunity to play.”

For more information about the Elite Insurance Sevens Series visit www.elite-rugby.co.uk/sevens-series

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