If you had looked outside The Prep during the dark winter evenings, you may well have spotted a small group of boys giving hours of dedication, sweat and tears to the beginning of a frankly extraordinary rugby 7s journey. Over the past 8 months this group of Year 8s have trained hard through all weathers, and battled adversity to win 5 major tournaments.
The new team burst onto the scene at the first tournament of the season, Severnside 7s in November, where they easily won the tournament. But, following their initial success, the boys suffered a bad day at the Pinewood School 7s tournament, with a team plagued by illness and injury barely managing to field a full team for each match. Their bad luck continued as illness forced them to cancel their attendance at the Bryanston School 7s tournament in December. Undeterred, the boys hit the training pitches with new determination. Success was just around the corner...
The first run out of the Spring Term was at a friendly event held at Sherborne School. It was the day of the underdog! Due to a late drop-out, a 2nd VII squad stepped up to the plate. Many of these boys were training just as hard as the rest of the squad, but had not yet made the step up to the 1st VII – and they did not disappoint: in a staggering 10 minutes of play the 2nd VII beat the Sherborne 1st VII by 30 points! This was not only a huge reward for the boys’ hard work, but a demonstration on the importance of giving boys the opportunities to stretch themselves.
The team appeared to have recovered from their winter dip and the wins kept coming: after a staggering performance at the Downs 7s (one of the largest tournaments on the Prep School circuit), the boys drew 5-5 in the final against Moulsford School, firmly putting them on the map as one of the best sides in the country. From there the boys headed to Sibford 7s tournament, where they went about their game with professionalism, finishing with a 50-0 win over Bredon Hill in the final.
Then came the big one: Rosslyn Park National 7s. True to their recent form, the Prep boys tore through the group stage with wins against Old Buckenham Hall (30-5), Asygarth (35-10) and Lord Wandsworth College (30-0), putting them into a group of other group winners: yet another chance for The Prep players to test themselves. And they did not disappoint! The boys were warrior poets – combining strong physicality with sublime brilliance to beat the two group winners 40-5 (Terrington Hall) and 50-5 (King’s Rochester). Due to a change in the event format, in accordance with RFU rulings, for the first time since 1956 there was to be no Prep Schools winner – there were to be six joint winners. The team’s exceptional performance in the previous matches secured one of those six coveted spaces on the winners stand – where they took their photo before heading home.
But there was little time to rest and celebrate: the boys' win at the Sibford 7s tournament meant they had qualified for a 'champion of champions' event run by premiership side, Northampton Saints. The team, made up of boys who had already played two cricket matches that day, secured some huge wins against large prep schools to earn a place in the final. It was an incredible game against The Perse School. The teams were matched in skill and determination, therefore it was fitting that it finished 12 all, with both sets of coaches agreeing that no one deserved to lose. It was agreed to share the title. The boys held the trophy aloft inside the Premiership ground, and it was nothing less than they deserved.
Over the course of eight months, this team have taken on and beaten huge schools. Although Cheltenham Prep selects from only 30 boys in Year 8, we have taken on schools with as many as 200 Year 8 boys – an achievement on its own and an even bigger achievement for this small group of boys, who also went nearly unbeaten through their hockey season and, just a few days ago, beat the Cardiff County Cricket side by 51 runs. How has this has been achieved? Firstly, the outstanding character of the boys in this year group - not just the 1st VII players, but across all teams and ability levels. Secondly, the fantastic sporting facilities we enjoy as a Prep School linked to a large Senior School. Thirdly, the wonderful coaching talent at Cheltenham College, that brings our pupils in touch with professional players and coaches of all kinds of sports. But finally, our sporting ethos: our mission is not to collate trophies, medals or even wins, it is simply to add value to each and every pupil, no matter what their ability level.
Well done to this year's rugby 7s team - they have achieved something truly special and should be very proud of their sheer determination. We watch with anticipation to see where their talents will take them.