The Singha Premiership Rugby Sevens tournament promises to be a hugely entertaining evening, but Guy Thompson is more excited than most about the short form extravaganza, writes Patrick Lennon.
Wasps will entertain rivals Harlequins, Northampton Saints and Saracens in the traditional high-octane curtain raiser, taking place for the very first time at the fantastic Ricoh Arena on Friday 21st August.
Thompson is chafing at the bit to get involved both on and off the field – with the exclusive Ministry of Sound DJ set to entertain the crowd in the Jaguar Hall after the conclusion of the rugby.
"I think half the boys who are playing in it want to stay down for the night! As long as we can persuade Dai!" he laughs. "I know a few of the boys have been eyeing it up already, but I suspect it will be the bus home to bed for us!"
When we asked Guy what was on his iPod in the quick fire round 'First XV' for the match programme last season, his answer was unequivocal – "Ministry of Sound Anthems."
Guy made his debut for Wasps two years ago in the Premiership Sevens at Saracens' Allianz Park under the captaincy of the recently departed Tom Varndell, and says that himself and the squad want to set the record straight on the field after a couple of lean years.
"We had a really good team but we didn't do as well as we could have done. We didn't do as well as we could last year – a few of the boys were away in Portugal on training camp for the Aviva Premiership season. This year, there's likely to be a fair few of us involved hopefully, Dai has said he's going to put a few of the first team boys out."
The squad has reconvened for nearly a month of hard fitness work at Twyford Avenue at this point of the pre-season, as the level of endeavour in the gym and on the training field ratchets up. Guy says the new additions are bedding in, and everyone is working their fingers to the bone to increase speed, agility, size and strength, in anticipation of the trials of the season to come.
"It will be a great opportunity for us to put into practice the fitness we've done in pre-season. We will do a few training sessions, but nothing too specialised – a lot of us have played Sevens in the past.
"On the whole it's an opportunity to go and do some fitness with ball in hand. For me, it's great, it's a bit of contact as well – Sevens is becoming more about contact now."
Rivalries in elite rugby union are friendly, in keeping with the core values of the game, but certainly don't abate in the summer months. A group with former London neighbours Harlequins and Saracens, and new Midlands neighbours Northampton Saints will make for a tasty encounters, attests the 28-year-old back row specialist.
"We've got a group with Saracens, Northampton and Quins, it's a massive group with massive rivalries, so we are excited for it" says Guy.
"You always run more, and you try a little bit harder, because we are all really competitive. When you have the chance to go up against big rivals in Saracens, Quins and Saints, it's a great opportunity to try to get one over on your opposite number, and then you take it into the fifteens.
"All the teams in the Premiership are rivals. You know each other pretty well after a couple of years of playing – it's always fun to get one over on someone. We've all got mates at every club."
There is an added personal dimension to Guy's obvious passion for the shorter form of the game. He credits Sevens rugby with saving his professional career.
Following the end of his Academy contract at Gloucester, Guy says he was disillusioned with the game, and had all but decided to hang up his boots and pursue a different career. He takes up the tale,
"On a personal level, the only reason I'm playing rugby now is because of playing Sevens on the international invitational scene. It was with a team called Templars. I wasn't enjoying rugby a few years ago. I stepped away from it five or six years ago and the only reason I got back into it was playing a few social tournaments and enjoying it again.
"I was at Gloucester Academy, and after my contract ended there I didn't really fancy playing rugby any more. I wasn't happy. I went travelling for a year, and got a job in London. A very good friend of mine ran Templars."
"We sponsored a charity battling an illness called CGD – we did a lot of work and raised a lot of money for that. I managed to fly to Dubai a couple of times, I played the local Sevens series here, and it really got me enjoying rugby again."
It sounds like his Templars were very well-equipped to go into battle as well. Guy says they were a force to be reckoned with, and the winning experience ultimately brought him back to rugby.
"We had a really good team – we won the local series here in the UK – I played with Brad Weber, who just made his All Blacks debut, and I played with Henry Speight who has just made his debut for Australia. We had Randall Kamea who played for Fiji, and Rocky Khan and George Tilsley who both played for New Zealand.
"We had this team over a few years that really got me enjoying it again, got me back playing and that's when I ended up going to Richmond, then Jersey, and then here to Wasps!
"It was Sevens that really kick-started it all for me, which is why when I get the opportunity to be Wasps Ambassador for the Singha Sevens Series at the Ricoh Arena I jumped at it. It's close to my heart and I really enjoy playing."
The Wasps faithful will be thrilled that 'Tommo' was re-invigorated by the short form of the game. In truth, it will be Sevens which has the potential to inspire new players and increase participation in the sport in the coming 24 months, by virtue of inclusion in the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
The professional contracts handed to the 20 England Ladies in preparation for that push for gold are indicative of a niche no longer. Sevens' profile is on the rise, and will be a catalyst to the wider fifteens game, just as 20/20 has been for cricket.
Guy agrees, saying,
"It is very similar to what cricket has done with 20/20. That has re-invigorated cricket. It gave an opportunity for other players who wouldn't normally have played the game to come in and enjoy it.
"That's what Sevens can do for rugby. It gives people an opportunity to go to these events. All over England there are Sevens tournaments going on everywhere over the summer, at all different levels. The high end – international invitation, one level below the internationals, a really high standard. Then you have pub teams, people going for the weekend, drinking while playing, things like that!"
None of that carry on amongst our erstwhile professionals at the Ricoh in August though!
Wasps have worked very hard to capture the glorious night out in staging the group matches, and Guy encourages one and all to make the effort and come out.
He concludes with a call to arms, saying,
"It's amazing! It is going to be incredible. It is just a great evening out for anybody. Anyone who is at a loose end needs to come down and have a look. Come in fancy dress if you'd like. If you're over 18 come and have a few beers, if you're under 18 come and see the events and games that are going on outside.
"It's going to be a great event. It will give people the opportunity to watch rugby for the first time if they haven't before – they'll have a great time. Hopefully the weather will be good too.
"It's a great stadium, with something going on for everyone. And for the people who can still hack it towards the end of the night, they can enjoy the after party as well! A test of your fitness on and off the field!"
Tickets for the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s on Friday 21 August (7pm) cost £10 for adult and £5 for under 18s, with a special 7s & After Party package for Over 18s priced at £15. Alternatively, tickets to attend the After Party are priced at £10 for Over 18s only.
Friday 21 August – Ricoh Stadium, Coventry
Harlequins, Northampton Saints, Saracens, Wasps
7.15pm – Harlequins v Wasps
7.40pm – Saracens v Northampton Saints
8.10pm – Saracens v Harlequins
8.35pm – Wasps v Northampton Saints
9.05pm – Harlequins v Northampton Saints
9.30pm – Wasps v Saracens
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