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OURFC success at Toulon 7s

Photo caption: Men's and Women's 7s team at RC Toulonnais

Women's 7s Report:

Last weekend the Women's Blues jetted off at the crack of dawn to sunny old France for some good old fashioned rugby, or ‘rugby’ with a French accent as they say in France. After another successful season of XV, the Women’s Blues were looking forward to smashing some 7s under the sun. 

Thursday provided a gentle induction into the lifestyle of a 7s player, where we lay under the sun after reaching the hotel, followed by a trip to Toulon University to train against their esteemed 7s team. L’Université de Toulon, who were extremely welcoming and accommodating, providing us with snacks, drinks, stylish tote bags and insights to their style of play that would come in handy for our matches against them over the next few days. We then spent the evening and the following morning with a bit of R&R and some catching practice by the beach, all of which was very necessary to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the tournament to come.  

On Friday our final training session took place at the Toulonais Rugby Club, a beautiful training ground that was once the proud home of Monsieur Johnny Wilkinson. We ran some drills, gawked at the mountain views, and touched up on our shape before heading to the stadium, Léo Lagrange Sports Complex. Here the women were greeted upon arrival with an extremely enthusiastic camera man who politely began the chant “Vive  l’Oxford!” to brighten our spirits. This was the kind of patriotic attitude we carried with us to the first game against Toulon 2s, a debut that began our series of triumphs. With a sexy turnover from Sophie Shams’ very first kick off, it became clear that the Blues would dominate this game. La Capitaine Alex Wilkinson, or Madame Johnny as her loyal fans would soon call her, quickly made an excellent break and scored the first for Oxford. Then followed an excellent two tries by Lily Phillips, and then another by Lilla Berry to rack up the score line. The opposition held on to possession for the last quarter of the match, but unfortunately did not know what to do with it. Trying their luck on the wing, Berry made numerous consecutive tackles in an effort to slow their offense, forcing them to remain stagnant. The final score came to 34-5 for Les Bleus.

The Oxford girls decided that the first game was too easily won, and so made the second much more eventful. Taking on Marseille University, the team continued to dominate the pitch, this time with tries from Iona Ffrench – Adam, our rugby league import, Yasmin Irving, and Melissa Morley who threw her body on the line (quite literally!) to take Oxford into the lead. Unfortunately, her ankle did not follow through, and suffered at the hands of a beautifully epic try. Break a leg they said! And Mel’s not one to ignore instructions…

And neither is Yasmin Irving, though that’s not what the French ref seemed to think. In a wonderfully executed tackle that sent the Marseille shirt flying, Yaz was punished with a grossly unjust red card. Even the linesman shook his head in disagreement, and Femi Sofolarin, the GB 7s player flown in to coach the men called it “a great hit”. But Yaz, though fluent in French, thought it best not to argue. Down to 6 players, the Blues had to think fast and run fast, two things that we apparently are very good at. Despite these hurdles, the ball continued to march up the pitch into French territory, and the FT score came to 39-10. 

These games brought us through to the final, and so the girls headed off back to the hotel with heads held high for a well-deserved evening of Irish snap, which some would say proved to be more competitive than the actual rugby tournament itself. After a long night’s rest, and some pain-au-chocolats for breakfast, back to the stadium we trotted.  This time we were taking on the esteemed Toulon 1s, a match that we knew would be hard fought having trained with them on Thursday. Nevertheless, we laced up our boots and marched onto the pitch, craving more of a challenge than we had so far been presented with. And a challenge it was, with Toulon nipping round our defence to threaten us with a few silly tries. Madame Johnny herself scored one against them (Have we mentioned she plays for England?), though the scales were dangerously tipping in the French favour. The second half came to be much better, however, as we grew more conditioned to their playing techniques and pressured them to form an equal half. The game ended with Sophie Shams making an excellent carry, drawing in several Toulon shirts like moths to a flame, to pop the ball to Lilla Berry who finished the try from the halfway line. Knowing we would be taking each other on once more in the final, the Toulon girls stepped off the pitch with a 33-17 win, and us with a hunger for victory.

Unfortunately, it happens that we are still hungry, though the final was a much closer game. With our kick off caught by Lily Phillips, Oxford regained immediate possession, and looked to score of this within the first minute of the game. Feeling good about ourselves, we sauntered forwards, until disaster struck once more. Phillips decided that the empath within her could not take seeing Mel so poorly all by herself, and so decided to follow in her footsteps with yet another broken ankle (and foot!) Our Lily is always quick to the latest trends, and apparently couldn’t bear to miss out on this one. Oh well, another one bites the dust and Oxford continued to push forwards. With Yasmin Irving’s ban lifted for the final game, she proceeded to plough into the opposition, though surprise surprise they were not so easily held back as their second team. The game went back and forth in true ping pong fashion, before Shams intercepted a French ball and popped it off to Madison Quig to take the score to 17-19. Tolu Duckworth then proceeded to make an impressive break at the centre of the pitch, but was pulled back by her hair, which is not where the tackle should be made. Another red card, this time in our favour. Things were looking up for the Blues, until they weren’t again - a couple of silly tries took the Toulonais girls to victory. Final score 26-33 to the opposition, but this didn’t dampen our spirits. We still managed to take home some silverware, and after a cheeky stop at the hospital we took to the streets of Toulon to continue our festivities with the Men’s Blues. The night was a hoot, and the teams grew all the more close, socially and physically. The nightclub were trés strict with their dress code rules, and so some of us had to think innovatively, throwing shoes over barriers and sneaking in through smoking areas. It was a team effort to say the least, and our #OneClub attitude was certainly as strong as ever. The celebrations eventually ended with us soothing our neighbours with sweet lullabies of ‘Twist and Shout’ back in the hotel. 

The final day blessed us with an amazing island trip to the town of Porquerolles, where we enjoyed French delicacies such as onion pizza, fancy cous-cous and sticky crêpes. We also delighted in the local custom of extreme standstill traffic on a Sunday afternoon, which resulted in yet another challenge (yay!) where we had to sprint through the airport to make the last flight home. But what 7s player doesn’t love a bit of running? 

Overall we had a fantastic weekend, and were so well accommodated by Toulon that we couldn’t have asked for more, and are very grateful for such an amazing opportunity. The Women’s Blues are extremely proud of their efforts in the tournament and look forward to playing more 7s back on the home turf. Allez les Bleus! 

Men's 7s Report:

On Thursday 11th April the Oxford Men's 7s Squad convened as is usual fashion at Gatwick Airport circa 6am, as the tour’s specialist sevens recruitment players, who were later called “the ringers”, were introduced to the group over a full English and a singular pint. Following a pleasant first flight to Marseille, albeit one £50 fine for overweight luggage (that being Oscar Chalmer’s bag, not Matthew Cook) the team landed in Marseille and enjoyed a scenic drive to Toulon where they touched down in their accommodation, a hybrid hostel/primary school, before leaving for their first training session at Toulon university. The session, led by professional sevens player Femi Sofolarin, or to give him his proper name “Coach”, was promising as the boys bettered their French counterparts on the pitch, with Finlay Ryan Philips superbly undertaking his role as “chief fear enforcer” by skimming past the Toulon defenders with ease and warning them of what was to come in the real game. Of course, having identified his impact in the training, “Fin diesel” hung his boots up after the session and enjoyed the French sun rugby free, yet still sporting full rugby kit. After coach was reprimanded by a certain ringer for exhausting us in the heat and warned “we’re going to get worn out!”, the boys enjoyed a brief presentation and a description of the decathlon by the Toulon university professors and feasted on 8 large boxes of pastries before heading back to the hostel. Merci pour l’hospitalité Toulon!

On Friday, 13 ‘petit café’ were ordered by specialist restaurant French speaker Matt Cook and the boys were off to practice at Top14 side Toulon’s training ground. Halfway through running moves the boys were met by the full Toulon team, and having sized up the likes of Dan Biggar and Charles Ollivon, the teams integrated for a photo and shared conversations with David Ribbands, who’s overarching sentiment of Toulon was “it is decent”. The boys then undertook to battle Belgium 7’s team in the first game full of confidence and reassured by Coach’s words “they’re alright”, drawing first blood with a hard line under the post for ringer Oscar Chalmers. Belgium then seemingly remembered that they were a professional international side and scored the next few and won the game. Well done Belgium. After some intense recovery between the games Oxford then faced Montpellier, and dismantled them through sheer force and flair. Commanded by the general Johnny Searle “Exeter ringer” and skipper Jack Glover, the Oxford boys were relentless in their attack piercing through the French as is reminiscent of the battle of Waterloo, with powerful reinforcers and not so specialist sevens players Matt Cook, George Morgan and Ben Clarke coming on at half time to maintain man power. This immense effort seemingly took its toll on Matt Cook, who had a sharp 9 pm bed time whilst the other boys relaxed and enjoyed a light show back at the hostel before resting in anticipation of Saturdays game. An early rise and trip to the beach gave the boys a relaxing morning with the opportunity for a swim and some beachside instagram worthy pictures (asides from George Morgan) before feasting on a plate’s worth of Veal escalope and rushing off to the stadium. Oxford faced Toulon in the first game and tensions were high with the previous training session in mind. Jack Hamilton was ferocious in his winding attack and Sam James, “Wolfe’s Older brother”, used his mountaneous Viking heritage to ragdoll the French around before dislocating his shoulder and declaring to his teammates “that’s me done I reckon”. Thank you for efforts nonetheless Ringer ! Toulon grew agitated by the Oxford flair and their confusion as Harry Scoble and Ben Clarke took to the pitch, who were absent from the joint training session two days prior due to a job interview and a dying need to “disease code” respectively, and a small dispute took place after a tackle on Oscar Chalmers off the ball, though this was a quickly resolved and Oxford were victorious, in need of only one more victory over Marseille to progress to the elite men’s final.

The Oxford boys, perhaps slightly affected by the blistering temperature, had a slow start against Marseille as they went down two scores. However, it was, as deemed by the many who were watching, the greatest moment in sevens history, a true David and Goliath moment, a momentous run down the right hand side by George Morgan who, in his own words, “trucked” a bigger Toulon player that lifted the boys spirits, as Skipper Glover and Ringer Searle scored two more converted tries taking Oxford over the edge and into the final, where they would meet their rivals Belgium once more. As the sun began to set, the boys were in high spirits. Cheery high fives and smiles confused the Belgians stood across from the Oxford boys ready to run out onto the pitch, and rattled they received an almost instantaneous yellow card. A kick through and a lack of determination to chase back resulted in only one score in the first half for the Belgians. Spurred on by the magical words of captain Jack Glover, who uttered with the utmost rhetoric in a manner fitting to that of Cicero, “this is not just a heist anymore, this is game on lads” the boys were riled up and ready for the second half. Coach’s advice to not kick was taken aboard, for about 5 seconds, as the Oxford boys kicked and chased 4 times in quick succession nearly scoring in the corner by “The Aussie chiller” Archie King, who had come a long way from his previous confusion at how long a game of “sevens” was. Unfortunately, a few breakaway tries meant Belgium stole the game yet again, meaning that as a nation they could add winning French sevens tournaments to making outstanding chocolate as one of their many skills. Nevertheless Oxford took home some silverware after an exceedingly successful campaign.

A quick seafood paella and trip to the hospital later, the boys showered and dried (without soap and towels) in anticipation of a celebratory night out in Toulon. By utter miracle and chance, the boys met outside the taxis all adoring full white linen and travelled to the Toulon square, where player of the tournament Exeter ringer Johnny Searle ordered 13 beers for the lads, only to be rejected from the club for wearing shorts, the cruelest of outcomes. With some banterous tomfoolery and viewing that left Matthew Cook dumbfounded, the boys enjoyed a late taxi back to the hostel where a sleeping Ben Clarke was found and flipped over in his bed.

The next morning, the boys frantically awoken by Jack Hamilton, the thief in the night, were rushed to a taxi taking them to an island, where they were gifted 18 bowls of cous cous and enjoyed the refreshing waters of the the Mediterranean, before undertaking intense philosophical debate and some 9 euro beers. A short boat trip back was met by 2 hours of intense traffic that nearly made the Oxford boys miss their flight, however amidst the traffic the team was not nervous and rather aptly chose to spend the time ordering 10 aperol spritz in the sunshine at a nearby bar. An eventual quick run through security meant that the boys made the flight by a matter of minutes and were en route back to England, where some ran for a bus back to Oxford, and others embarked in an extortionately priced Uber back to London, concluding an extremely successful trip and awesome campaign in Toulon. What an astounding experience the trip was, and the boys are immensely grateful for the opportunity!

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