As part of our decision to do things we'd not done before, I bought two cheap tickets for a Rugby 7s tournament at the ground of Northampton Saints rugby club. We've lived near Northampton for nearly 9 years now and most of that time we've been telling ourselves that we really ought to go to a rugby match. The trouble is that rugby is a winter sport and the season is characterised by generally rubbish weather and an inability to park anywhere in the area when there's a game on. The 'deals' website Groupon made me an offer too good to refuse and I snapped up two tickets for a sevens tournament in July 2013. The weather would be good, the tickets were stupidly cheap (from memory I think it was just £4 per person) and we'd not be able to get bored because 7s is the extra-fast version of the game.
By the time I bought the tickets, I'd already splashed out £60 for two tickets to see the World Club 7s tournament at Twickenham. Neither my husband nor I had ever seen a 7s tournament before so we thought an evening at Northampton Saints might be a good, cheap way to prepare for a full day of it two weeks later.
I'm a bit wary of trying to explain rugby on an American-owned website. Thankfully quite a lot of the world would know how rugby is played and what the rules are, whilst the rest will probably never get it in a zillion years regardless of how many words I might write on the subject. So I don't plan to tell you much at all. In effect 7s is the 'cut down' version of rugby union which is played – the clue is in the name – with seven men aside instead of the normal 15 players per team. The pitch, the goal and everything else is full sized, it's just the teams that are reduced. In a 'normal' 15-aside game, the two halves of the game are each 40 minutes long. Continuing the numerical theme, in 7s the matches are short at just 7 minutes each way. In a full sized game with 30 men on the pitch at any time, there are a lot of large muscular bodies in the way of anyone who wants to get to the other end of the field. In 7s, there's a lot less to stop the player with the ball and so despite the short duration of the games, the scores can be really high with lots of trys and plenty of action.
The event we attended was sponsored by J P Morgan and there were four teams involved. The local team, Northampton Saints, were clearly the favourites with the crowd but soon proved to be really rubbish. Saints' old enemies, Leicester Tigers, come from around 30 miles away and were the team that the locals wanted to beat. Sale Sharks were visiting from the North West of England (Sale is a suburb of Manchester) and Newcastle Falcons had travelled the furthest of any of the teams coming all the way from the North East. In a period of just over two and a half years, each of the teams played each of the others, adding up to a total of 6 games.
We parked up in the official Saints car park where we were charged just £2 for the evening. From the car park to the stadium was just a few minutes walk. We joined a long line to pick up our tickets and by 7 o'clock we were inside the stadium There were no allocated seats and we arrived early enough to have plenty of choice. Apparently we should have taken a seat in the long stand from which you can see the whole pitch, but we opted instead to sit behind the goal.
The 'Crystal Sevens' - a troupe of the most inept and talentless cheerleaders I've ever seen - put on a very lame 'dance' display before the start of the first match and strutted about between games firing T-shirts into the crowd. These women were deeply irritating and almost pathologically incapable of keeping in time. Totally unathletic and not challenging themselves with much more than hip wiggles and arm waves, they were not even capable of walking in time. It would have been funny if it hadn't been SO annoying.
The turn out for the tournament was amazing and the very cheap tickets meant that lots of families had brought children along with them. We were sitting behind a couple and their son and his best friend and we really enjoyed not being the only newcomers to Rugby 7s and we were almost as excited as the boys. 7s is a great way to introduce kids to rugby because they don't need to concentrate for very long, there are lots of breaks for them to wander around and they don't seem to get as restless as they would at a long game. And of course, the high scoring means lots of opportunities to jump up and down and shout your lungs out.
Lots of breaks also means there's a lot of opportunities for eating and drinking. If your stomach turns at the smell of large amounts of cheap processed meat, then Rugby 7s might not be for you. I've never seen so many people eat so many burgers, sausages and chips. My husband heard that the club ran out of beer that evening due to the good weather and the frequent opportunities for attendees to nip off and buy more drinks.
The only time I've ever been to live rugby before was a wet and miserable March day where the scores barely reached double figures, the ball was wet and all that happened for most of the game was that the players booted the ball from one end to the other because it was too wet to pass. It was a dreadful game. By contrast some of these short games clocked up multiple trys and really big scores. By watching lots of games, we soon got to know the different teams and to recognise their tactics and their players.
On the downside, I think that the determination to make up with beer sales what they lost on cheap 'GroupOn' customers meant that the breaks between games were rather too long. If I never saw those annoying cheerleaders again, I'd be more than happy but I did sort of enjoy the little assault course race that was put on in one of the intervals where supporters of the four clubs hopped about on Spacehoppers and scrambled under nets for the honour of their teams. The women in front of us enjoyed watching the teams warming up on the touchline and took a lot of pictures of some very muscular bottoms in tight shorts – many of which I suspect were quickly on Facebook.
The atmosphere in the crowd was cheerful and light-hearted and very much in good spirits. As an occasion for children (and people old enough to have made the effort many years before) to get a quick and easy introduction to live rugby, it was the perfect experience. 'Our' team were rubbish and got beaten in all three games but nobody really seemed to care. I would certainly watch out for similar events next year and I'd really like to go again.