Singha Premiership 7s: Kingsholm preview

The Singha 7s competition advances to its second leg on Thursday when Kingsholm will play host to Gloucester, Bath, Exeter Chiefs and London Irish, as all four clubs bid to make the tournament’s showpiece final at the Twickenham Stoop.

Gloucester

Coach: Olly Morgan

Squad: Steve McColl, Joe Mullis, Elliot Creed, Ollie Thorley, Jack Evans, Will Safe, Dan Thomas, Gareth Evans, Ben Vellacott, Lloyd Evans, Steph Reynolds (c), Mark Atkinson.

Gloucester, the tournament’s reigning champions, have opted for a solid blend of youth and experience in their squad. The likes of McColl and Atkinson featured heavily for the Cherry and Whites in their Aviva Premiership campaign last season, whilst L Evans and Mullis are amongst the brightest prospects to emerge from the club’s academy in recent years.

Mullis and Safe, along with more established players such as G Evans and Thomas, should provide the squad with the required physical punch, without sacrificing the pace or ball-handling skills, to make a solid attempt at defending their title.

One to watch – Lloyd Evans

Evans was part of the England squad that made it to the World Rugby U20 Championship final this year, and though the fly-half played second fiddle to Rory Jennings in that campaign, his looser and more adventurous style should be well-suited to the arena of 7s. 

The diminutive fly-half isn’t afraid to pin his ears back and run at defences and will look to keep the opposition on the back foot throughout the tournament. If Evans can stretch those opposition defences, the experienced heads of McColl, Atkinson and Reynolds could all find holes on either shoulder of the fly-half.

Bath

Coach: Barry Maddocks and George Tavner

Squad: Alex Humfries, Apolosi Sokia, Scott Watkins, Zach Mercer, Josh Bayliss, Rob Coote, Jack Maplesden, Owen Walters, Adam Hastings (c), Siva Naulago, Alex O’Meara, Darren Atkins.

Bath have gone in a different direction to Gloucester, handing opportunities to a number of younger academy players, including Mercer and Atkins, both of whom have just returned from England U18 duty in South Africa. They are joined by Josh Bayliss and Owen Walters, who are also members of Bath’s U18 squad.

Experience in the squad is not provided by Bath’s senior squad, but by a number of 7s specialists brought in for the competition. Sokia, Naulago and Watkins are all members of the British Army 7s squad and build on the link that the club already has with the representative side, whilst Humfries, a student at Bath University, has played for the Welsh national 7s team. The chemistry of the group is untested and though it could prove a successful combination, the young age of many of Bath’s own players point towards the club using the event first and foremost as a developmental tool.

One to watch – Adam Hastings

Scotland’s U18 fly-half not only makes his bow at the tournament, but he will also shoulder the burdens of captaincy at a very young age. The son of former Scotland international Gavin Hastings, the youngster will lead many of his contemporaries from the Bath academy, but also experienced and older 7s players.

Hastings has an unenviable list of fly-halves to dislodge in the Bath pecking order over the coming years (George Ford, Rhys Priestland and Rory Jennings), but a strong showing at Kingsholm should breed confidence in the age-grade star. A top showing may even push him into contention to feature for Bath this season, especially with the club’s back line resources set to be sternly tested by the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

Exeter Chiefs

Coach: Ricky Pellow

Squad: Sam Simmonds, Stuart Townsend, Sam Skinner, Jack Maunder, Harry Strong, Pete Laverick, Jack Arnott, Matt Eliet, Joe Simmonds, Adam Worth, Alex Ducker, Tom Holdsworth.

Like Bath, Exeter have gone firmly down the youth over experience route for this year’s Singha 7s. Skinner and Townsend are fresh from impressive campaigns with England at the World Rugby U20 Championship and are joined by fellow prominent academy players, Simmonds and Maunder.

The tournament should prove extremely important for back rowers Skinner and Simmonds, both of whom could struggle for game time with Dave Ewers, Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom all currently available during international periods. The ever-increasing quality and depth of the Chiefs’ squad makes this tournament a rare and valuable opportunity for those involved.

One to watch – Jack Arnott

The winger, who impressed at Plymouth Albion last season, will know that a strong showing at Kingsholm could propel him into pole position to fill the void created by Tom James’ departure to Cardiff Blues and Jack Nowell’s likely place in England’s RWC squad.

Having captained Exeter at last year’s Premiership 7s, Arnott will be hoping to take Exeter further this year than the sole victory they managed in 2014, and his pace, footwork and committed defending will all be key to the Chiefs realising their ambitions at Kingsholm on Thursday night.

London Irish

Coach: Nick Kennedy

Squad: Ross Neal, Connor Murphy, Johnny Williams, Callum Watson, Tom Parton, Joe Cokanasiga, Curtis Langdon, Matt Williams, Rory Brand, Ryan Jeffery, Sam Bellhouse, Paul Hodgson.

Even with 33-year-old academy coach Hodgson included in the squad, London Irish will boast the youngest collective at the Kingsholm leg of the Singha 7s. Langdon and J Williams are two of the highlights in the squad, both having impressed on England U18s recent tour of South Africa, whilst Brand, Parton and M Williams are all still enrolled at Wellington College and combine their school responsibilities with their time in London Irish’s U18 squad.

Cokanasiga, Murphy, Neal and Watson take Irish’s academy contingent to nine, with Jeffery and Bellhouse, alongside Hodgson, completing the 12-man squad. As with Bath, Irish look to be using the competition as a developmental tool for their U18 players and though qualifying for the final at the Stoop would be warmly welcomed, it could prove an uphill challenge.

One to watch – Callum Watson

As his selection for the England 7s squad at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa shows, Watson has all the skills to excel in the 7s arena. His searing acceleration and agile footwork are chief amongst these skills and he will look to instil a tempo into the Irish squad that other teams struggle to match.

The younger brother of England XVs star Anthony and former England 7s star Marcus, the youngest Watson brother has big reputation to live up to at London Irish, but as his senior debut last season shows, he looks to be a player the Reading-based club is keen to build around. The scrum-half could eventually become a centrepiece of the new-look Irish side and that journey could be kick-started on Thursday night at Kingsholm.