With Olympic status and sold-out stands for the Commonwealth Games, rugby sevens is a game on the rise. Darlington will get a slice of the pie this evening when the Premiership Rugby 7s comes to town.
Moved to the Northern Echo Arena due to Newcastle Falcons’ Kingston Park pitch not being ready, the largest dedicated club rugby ground in England will welcome sides from Leicester Tigers, London Welsh and Sale Sharks in a televised feast of round-robin action.
The top two sides on the night will push through to next Friday’s finals in London, Falcons’ coach Mark Laycock insisting the simplified format and breakneck scoring speed provide an ideal entry point into the game for non-rugby aficionados.
“The Premiership 7s is a major event now and has grown year on year,” said Laycock, the Newcastle academy director who has gone largely with youth for the event won by Newcastle back in 2011.
“A few of the guys were at the Commonwealth Games last weekend and said the atmosphere was amazing, so hopefully some of the Premiership stuff will follow on from that.
“More and more people are wanting to get involved with sevens and it is easy to see why.
“It is fast, there are plenty of tries and lots going on around the game, so it is a great starting platform for people who are perhaps not familiar with or too interested in the laws or complexity of 15s.
“It is a much more simplified version of the game which is easy to understand and there is all the razzmatazz which surrounds the action.
“Anyone who goes to watch will be in for a treat and for newcomers to rugby it is a fantastic way to have a taste of the game.
“Plan A was to have it at Kingston Park, but moving it to Darlington opens up a whole new audience for the club.
“The arena down there is a fantastic venue which people will enjoy and, as nice as it would have been to christen our new pitch at Kingston Park, everyone is looking forward to getting down to Darlo.”
Having won the competition three years ago and last season making the final, Laycock said: “Looking back to last year a couple of the guys came in and made a good impression, which ultimately led to them playing for the first team.
“For these youngsters it is a chance to showcase their talent and what they need is a bit of experience and exposure.
“The sevens is a great chance for that. Guys like Dan Temm came to us half-way through last season and made his first-team debut at Saracens and Simon Hammersley from Durham University is in his first year full-time with us.
“They are probably the two who most people will be looking out for, but they all have an opportunity.
“Some people deal with pressure better than others, and for all of these academy lads it is a long journey they are on.”
Tom Catterick (pictured above) and rugby league convert Lee Smith are among the senior heads in the Newcastle squad, London Welsh opting to field a team of ringers including Darlington Mowden Park’s Aaron Myers and Tynedale pair Hamish Smales and Ben Frankland. Laycock said: “We had a chat with Dean Richards and the senior coaches about it and, with the time of year in which it falls, it is all about trying to give certain guys some exposure.
“It is testing the water to a certain extent because nobody has done a huge amount of rugby at this stage of the summer, and this is the first opportunity for some of the lads to hold their hand up for senior selection.
“We have selected a pretty young squad. We have guys with footwork who can find a bit of space, some creative ball-players and a number of back-rowers who will add that element of physicality at the breakdown as well as being an aerial threat.”