Costa Blanca 7s Tour
18th to 23rd May 2022
by Graeme Inglis, Sandra Soler-Gomez & Craig Brown
After three years in hibernation the Penguins were back on tour again! We marked the occasion with another Penguin first as having had to cancel our inaugural ladies match against Oxford University in 2020, the ‘Rockhoppers’ (the Penguins Ladies Team) finally took their bow. This was the Penguins’ first time at the Costa Blanca 7s, a tournament which was celebrating its 35th birthday. The Elite Men and Women’s tournament attracts teams from all around the world, including several European national teams.
We were also joined by several the King Penguins, who provided support (and much entertainment!) throughout the weekend. Including some family and friends of the players, the Penguins numbers swelled to a ‘waddle’ upwards of 60 people!
As always, both teams came together for the first time from several different clubs and countries. At last count the touring party was represented by 12 different nations including England, Scotland Ireland, Wales, France, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia, helping us to retain our famous international flavor.
The coaching and support team was made up of several old and a few new faces. The men’s team was coached by long time Penguin Steve Hill, while the Woman’s team was coached by ex-Welsh internationalist Rachel Taylor, who was making her debut with the Penguins. Both Teams were supported by former Penguin, Conan Sharman , who provided specialist 7s expertise to both squads. As usual both teams were well looked after by our fantastic medical team. It was great to see Marc, Ting and Zailene from Synapse Physiotherapy make the trip from Malaysia, and they were joined by the Penguins favorite masseuse, Sue. The men’s team was managed by long time Penguin Graeme ‘Jingles’ Inglis, and the ladies by Sandra Soler-Gomez, who has toured with the Penguins several times previously in a coaching capacity. We were also lucky enough be joined by three of the Penguins Board members, including our ever-present CEO, Craig Brown, our Treasurer, Norman Wilson and Marianne Okland who was joining us on tour for the first time since joining the Penguin Board.
Most of the team arrived late on the Wednesday evening/Thursday morning, and a team lunch on Thursday gave the players their first chance to get to know each other. Later on Thursday afternoon, we jumped on the coach and headed out to the Stadium to train. While it was late afternoon, the players got a taste of the conditions they were to face over the weekend with temperatures in the high 20s whcih kept the water boys and girls very busy!
After dinner at the hotel, both squads met for a few drinks together and having been joined by the last few players to arrive, were able to enjoy each other’s company and really start to develop some team spirt.
After breakfast on Friday, both teams headed off to the beach to run through a few drills and knock off any cobwebs from the night before. Later that afternoon, it was back off to the stadium to put the final touches to our preparations. Following training, we had the jersey presentation with the Ladies’ jerseys presented by head coach Rachel, while the Men's were handed out by Chris Walker, the last person to Captain the Penguins touring team, before the pandemic. As well as the jersey presentation, Holly Thorpe was named as captain of the ladies’ team while Ruairi Campbell was named the Men’s captain. The men’s team also named a vice captain in Alex Kilbane.
After a team dinner on Friday night, it was time to get some shut eye ahead of the pool stages the following day.
First up for the Men’s team on day one was the Polish National Team, who were, big, fit and well drilled, so it was a good test for us from the off. With the lead changing several times during the match, a last gasp score by winger Finn Matthew secured a 19-14 victory to the Penguins.
Next up another tough game against the Miesnieki from Latvia. Like the first game, the Latvians presented a robust test for our boys, and the final 14-12 (win), shows how close things were.
Our third game of the day was always going to be a step up as we took on Viator Barbarians, which are effectively a Spanish Barbarians team, who have previously won the tournament on several occasions, with several players sporting IRB World Series 7s experience. While we managed to keep the score to 12-7 at half time, they ramped things up a notch in the second half to which we had no answer with the final score 32-7 to Viator.
Despite the tough last game, were got through day one, with 2 wins and 1 loss, which meant we were guaranteed a quarter final berth.
After a team dinner at the hotel, it was early to bed to recover ahead of the business end of the tournament.
Back Row: Graeme Inglis (Manager), Conon Sharman (Coach), Adam Marshall (Palmyra), Steve Hill (Coach), Matt Walker (Edinburgh Accies), Harry Hunter (Ealing Trailfinders), Alex Dewhurst (Oldfield), Sue Olovsson (Masseur), Marc Daniel (Physio), Kit Keith (Harrogate), Craig Brown (CEO).
Front Row: Fin Matthews (Rams), Lewis Pratten (Taunton), Finlay Broomfield (Watsonians), Ruairi Campbell – Captain (Edinburgh Accies), Alex Kilbane – Vice Captain (Clifton), Kerr Gossman, Alix Benmegal (C'Chartres Rugby), Vinny Baker (Clifton)
First up on Sunday morning we faced the Whalers, a touring side from the UK, in our final pool game. Despite some staunch defense throughout the game, we struggled to win and retain enough ball to trouble the Whalers, and eventually they ran out 36-0 winners.
A second loss meant we had we finished 3rd in our pool and a quarter final with the Marauders, another UK based touring side, which also proved a tough assignment, and despite lots of early pressure, the Marauders won out by 29-0.
While we were out of the main tournament, there was still the plate competition to go for and Ruairi Campbell rallied his troops to finish the tournament on a high.
In our next match we faced a team called Alcatraz Rugby, a team from Venezuela. Venezuela!? They play rugby in Venezuela?!? Yes, we had the same reaction, they had brought a BIG, well drilled side with lots of pace out wide, so we knew they would be no push over. This proved to be the case and at half time there was nothing in it. Thankfully in the second half, the Penguins were able to ramp up a notch and managed to shake off their determined South American opponent with the final score 32-7.
After a long hot weekend, there was time for one final game, the Plate (5th v 6th) playoff final. In the final we faced another UK touring team called the Hurricanes. Despite both teams being out on their feet, both teams dug deep to deliver an entertaining final. The game remained close throughout, until a couple of late Penguin scores put the result beyond doubt at 26-19.
The first game for the ladies saw us playing Random Ruckers a UK-based team. Penguins took a little while to get into the game allowing the opposition to run in a quick try within the first minute. Penguins worked hard to gain ground and fast pace from our winger, Emma Hennessy saw Rockhoppers run in their first points to level the scores. Special mention for Emma for being the first points scorer for the Penguins women’s team.
Following a 5-minute delay in play while an injury to the opposition was managed, the game restarted, unfortunately, Penguins were caught off guard and Ruckers scored making the half-time score 14 – 7 to Ruckers. Penguins came back fighting in the second half running a try-in within 30 seconds of the restart. However with just over a minute to go Ruckers scored again taking the final score to 19-12 to Ruckers.
Next up we played Switzers, a Swiss-based team and the Penguins started the game as they wanted to go on, scoring within 40 seconds of the kick-off and 30 seconds later Penguins scored again. Over the next five minutes, the ladies ran in a further four tries taking the Penguins to a lead of 34 - 0 at half-time. The second half was much like the first with Penguins dominating in both defence and attack. The team united to work hard, and the support play was superb. Penguins ran in further six tries, winning the game 72 - 0.
The third game of the day saw us playing Deltadrone Tuks a team from Cape Town, South Africa. For the first three minutes, both teams played end-to-end rugby but could not finish successfully. It was not until the 4th minute of the game that Tuks ripped the ball then quick hands saw them score at the far end. Both teams continued to play wide expansive rugby but neither could capitalise on their efforts making the half-time score 7 – 0 to Tuks. For the first five minutes of the second half, both teams tried to open up their opposition with minimal success. Penguins struggled to get back against a kick and chase and with fast feet from the winger Tuks went over for their second try. However, Penguins were not giving up and from the restart deep in the 22, Penguins created some magic with hard running great support and fast legs they ran in their first try of the game. The final whistle blew leaving the score at 5- 12 for Tuks.
Back Row: Zailene Deliza (Physio), Marianne Okland (Exec Member), Amy Layzell (Darlington Mowden Park, England U20), Holly Thorpe (Darlington Mowden Park, England U18 &U20), Craig Brown (CEO), Tori Sellors (Worcester Warriors , England U20), Daisy Hibbered-Jones (Sale Sharks, England U20), Lizzie Duffy (Darlington Mowden Park, England U20), Sandra Soler-Gomez (Team Manager), Francesca Sberna (Rugby Calvisano, Italy), Jess Kavanagh (Caernarfon, Wales), Rachel Taylor (Coach), Sue Olovsson (Masseur)
Front Row: Karis Stevens (Swansea University), Lizzie Musa (Stade Rennais), Anna Caplice (Gloucester-Hartpury, Ireland), Emma Hennessy (Cheltenham Tigers, Wales), Elly Fanawopo (Dartfordians RFC, Kent), Willow Bell (Sale Sharks), Ting Low (Physio)
Despite the hard-fought last game, we ended day one with one win and two losses and after a team dinner at the hotel, it was time for physio, massage and then early to bed to be ready for Day 2.
First up on Sunday morning we played our fourth pool game again Finland’s national team. Penguins were a bit slow out of the traps and it was Finland who scored first. Undeterred, Penguins came straight back into the game with some fast-interlinking play resulting in a great try. Penguins fell just short of another try just before half-time leaving the score at 7 – 5 to Penguins. Penguins certainly let Finland know they were out to compete with some huge hits on the opposition. However, it was Finland who played downfield and with only ninety seconds left they racked up another try. With 45 seconds left Penguins knew the restart was vital after several pick and goes they neared the line but the ball travelled forward and a scrum was awarded to Finland, with only two seconds left on the clock Finland won the scrum illegally and Penguins took a quick tap and go, two phases later Penguins took the ball wide to score. A nail-biting win by Penguins 12 – 10.
With the pool stages over and two losses, Penguins ladies found themselves in 3rd place meaning we were now in the plate competition
Next up we came across the hometown team, Costa Blanca. Penguins got off
to a slow start but once their first try had been scored, there was no
stopping them and continuous pressure in combination with a well-worked
attack saw Penguins taking the lead at the half-time 19-0. The second
half saw the ladies attack much like the first half running in a further
three tries with some conversions bringing the final score to 38-0
Our next opposition was the Czech Republic and from the start, it was a fast-paced game with both teams showing some good skills, but it was the Czech who put the first points on the board from some great support play. Penguins defended well but with just ninety seconds to go before halftime, the Czech managed to squeeze in two further tries taking the half-time score to 19 – 0. Penguins were the first to score in the second half, but the well-drilled Czech team continued to apply pressure and although Penguins had more opportunities it was the Czech team who came away 31 – 7 winners.
Having lost our previous game, we now found ourselves in the 5th /6thplace play-off where we were to take on the U.K. Wooden Spoon Marauders team. A minute in and an error from Marauders saw Penguins take a quick tap kick and following some great support play Penguins secured the first points of the match. Penguins worked hard to keep the ball in the attacking 22 and it was not long before this paid off with another excellent Penguins line break try. From the restart Marauders retained the ball, taking advantage of a gap in the Penguins' defense they ran in an easy try taking the score to 7 – 12. The next restart saw Penguins collect and attack and with only three passes in they broke the defense and ran in their third try. Penguins squeezed in another try on the buzzer to bring the half-time score to 22 – 7 Penguins. Penguins continued their attacking ways at the start of the second half scoring first from a great team effort. There was no holding Penguins back now and the tries kept coming, two further tries saw the ladies leading 7 -39. Marauders managed to claw a try back resulting in the final score of 14 – 39 Penguins, a great final performance from the ladies.
So, after a weekend of ups and downs on the pitch, both Penguin Teams finished 5th in their respective tournament – winning the Plates.
With the rugby behind us, it was time to party and if there is one thing Benidorm does well it is party! Our Tsunami Hawaiian shirts were the perfect addition to the post tournament Hawaiian themed beach party back at the hotel, before both squads headed to The Strip to enjoy the delights of Benidorm, and to see if they could find any of the King Penguins, who had been missing there for several days!
All in all, while there was no silverware to speak of, both teams showed great character in shaking off quarter final losses to win their respective playoff finals. It was pleasing to see the improvement through all games.
Off the pitch the entire squad made the tour a great success and will have made many memories and friends for life. Thanks to all who toured, and we wish you all the very best in your rugby careers going forward. Hopefully we will see many of you back in Penguin colours in the future.
Marc, Ting, Sue and Zailene – our hard working medical team
A team building exercise
A trip such as this would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors and friends. We thank you all.
We would also like to thank the 2 individuals and 1 company that sponsored a day on tour. Their contribution really helped.
· Ian Warbrick from Switzerland
· Yuill Irvine from Scotland
· Synapse Physiotherapy from Malaysia