Professional players from across the globe descended on the small island of Mauritius to play in the second World Club 10s tournament. Alex Shaw went along to report for Rugby World.
Rugby in paradise
Ranked 86th in the world – nestled comfortably between Niue Islands and the Bahamas – it’s understandable if rugby isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the nation of Mauritius.
The small island in the Indian Ocean did, however, play host to the World Club 10s this year and put on a fabulous show for locals, tourists and players alike. It was the second edition of the tournament following its inaugural event in Singapore back in 2014, having taken a sabbatical in 2015 due to the all-encompassing Rugby World Cup.
The mantra of ‘rugby in paradise’ was not just some throwaway promotional slogan from the organisers of the competition, it permeated every level of the event. From luxurious hotels with expansive vistas of white sand beaches to the bustling and energising capital city of Port Louis, Mauritius delivered a totally unique rugby event, blending local culture with all the thrills and spills you would expect of a weekend at a sevens tournament.
Jon Phelps, founder of Carinat Sports Marketing, the company charged with organising the event, confirmed that the tournament will be played in Mauritius for the next three years and that they hope to grow the event over that time period.
“This year was about let’s get the building blocks, get the pro teams to come, enjoy it and see the value in it for their own brands as well.”
Phelps also confirmed that they would likely try to consolidate the tournament at the size of eight pro teams for 2017, but that expansion was definitely their long-term goal. For now, Phelps’ sights are set on increasing the amount of amateur teams also involved in the competition and he hopes to increase the number of satellite tournaments running concurrently with the pro tournament, with men’s, women’s and touch competitions for teams from all over the world set to be part of the 2017 event.
The weekend of rugby takes place at Anjalay Stadium, an 18,000 capacity venue that usually plays host to the Mauritian national football team. With plenty of South African and French expats, not to mention a very healthy amount of tourists from places such as the UK and Australia, there is a hope that over the coming years the event will be able to pack out the arena, with increased interest from locals also chief amongst the organisers’ ambitions.
That desire to see the sport grow in Mauritius was echoed by Kevin Venkiah, the president of Mauritius Rugby Union, who compared the country’s potential to that of Fiji.
“We have 1.2 million people. Look at Fiji (880k population). All we are missing is that culture. This tournament will help us a lot.
“We want the Indian Ocean to make a very good championship. The problem we have in Mauritius is that we have only five clubs. We want to go to Seychelles, Madagascar and then, maybe, the Currie Cup. I don’t know but this is my wish.”
The potential is clear to see in Mauritius and the skill levels exhibited by the U12, U14 and U16 teams who played during the intervals between the pro teams’ matches, were particularly impressive.
The Sharks, who were one of the eight teams competing for the trophy, took the time out of their schedule to go and visit a local school, College Technique Saint Gabriel, in the build-up to the tournament. The school teaches trades such as car maintenance and cookery to underprivileged children, many of whom have had no education or have been left homeless, with the goal of finding them work once they are old enough.
After the Sharks had been introduced to the students, they began running through training drills with the youngsters and the enthusiasm from the kids for the sport was palpable. Whilst football may be Mauritius’ national sport, there is a clear love for rugby in the country when its people are exposed to it.
Western Force conquer the World Club 10s
Moving onto the tournament and the Sharks were joined by Western Force, Brumbies, Saracens, Toulon, Africa Pacific Dragons, Euskadi and the Italian All-Stars in Mauritius, with the eight teams separated into two pools of four. The first day was spent playing inter-pool matches to determine seeding, before the teams locked horns for the trophy on finals day.
There was definitely a developmental approach from a number of teams, notably Saracens and Toulon, who left the majority of their senior players at home. Mike Ellery was the most notable inclusion for Saracens, whilst Toulon’s Anthony Meric was the most recognisable player for the side from the Côte d’Azur. Sharks and Force both brought multiple players with Super Rugby experience but were mainly reliant on youngsters.
Euskadi, a composite team from the Basque region, had a handful of Top 14 players, whilst the Italian All-Stars also had a few players plying their trade in higher European leagues. Africa Pacific Dragons were one of the more eye-catching teams, not only fielding a coaching team including Heyneke Meyer, Hale T-Pole and Will Genia, but also picking ex-All Black Jimmy Cowan, former Newport Gwent Dragon Tonderai Chavhanga and Sisa Koyamaibole.
The Brumbies were undoubtedly the big draw, however, naming a team rich with Super Rugby experience, including Jarrad Butler, Aidan Toua and Ruan Smith to list but a few.
The Australian side’s star-studded squad went well on day one, emerging undefeated from their pool of Force, Italian All-Stars and Toulon and looked in fine shape to keep up their challenge on finals day. Similarly, Saracens saw off Sharks, APD and Euskadi in Pool B and also ended the first day undefeated.
Pool A champions, the Brumbies, had a date with Euskadi in the quarter-finals, whilst Pool B toppers Saracens had a meeting with the Italian All-Stars. Western Force were set to meet APD and the Sharks and Toulon would wrap things up in the fourth quarter-final.
Sunday started as expected, with the Brumbies keeping up their rich vein of form, trouncing Euskadi, 43-5, but a shock came when Saracens, who had been so effective the previous day, were beaten 17-0 by a resurgent Italian All-Stars side. The Force (12-7) and Sharks (26-7) also booked their places in the Cup competition with solid wins.
Saracens’ misery continued after dropping into the Bowl competition, as they were shredded 33-7 by APD and the English champions dropped into the Shield, where they were joined by Euskadi, who were beaten by fellow French side Toulon, 24-7.
Force made the most of the Italians upsetting Saracens earlier in the day and comfortably dispatched the Europeans, 29-0, to book their place in the Cup final. The Brumbies took on the Sharks for the chance to face Force in the final and snuck a narrow 7-5 victory, with both teams playing at an intensity that will have done the Super Rugby aspirants in both squads a world of good.
After going undefeated on the first day and looking like a contender for the Cup, Saracens finally reversed their downward trend, beating Euskadi 43-0 in the Shield final, a scoreline that would be repeated shortly after when APD beat Toulon in the Bowl final. The Sharks took home the Plate, defeating the Italian All-Stars, 26-7.
The Cup final, an all-Australian affair, was the tensest game of the entire weekend. Neither team wanted to make the mistake which would allow the opposition to score but moments of magic from Michael Ruru proved to be the difference as Force did just enough to record a 7-0 victory and were able to lift the trophy that everyone had predicted would go to the Brumbies.
Ruru went on to be named the official player of the tournament and along with fellow Force standouts Kane Koteka and Tom Sexton, did his rugby career no harm at all with a stellar showing in Mauritius.
What they said…
Heyneke Meyer, Africa Pacific Dragons coach – “It’s great to be back in rugby.”
Ruan Smith, Brumbies prop – “It’s [10s rugby] great for developing skill sets and breakdown work, with teams not committing more than one or two players. Tight five players don’t often get the opportunity to do likewise in sevens.”
Henry Taylor, Saracens scrum-half and captain – “This is definitely a great opportunity to develop and press claims for more rugby next season, but we realise there is an expectation on us, representing Saracens.”
AB Zondagh, Sharks coach – “It was gutting to lose the semi-final but I’m happy with the effort and performances of our youngsters. We want to come back next year. We’ve definitely learned a lot from this year.”
Kane Koteka, Western Force flanker and captain – “We represent those boys back home and I think we’ve done them proud. I think we can use this as a springboard to improve our Super Rugby season.”
Team of the tournament
1. Paul Taupai, Saracens
2. Tom Sexton, Western Force
3. Ruan Smith, Brumbies
4. Kane Koteka, Western Force
5. Jarrad Butler, Brumbies
6. Henry Taylor, Saracens
7. Michael Ruru, Western Force
8. Aidan Toua, Brumbies
9. Tonderai Chavhanga, Africa Pacific Dragons
10. Thobekani Buthelezi, Sharks
What is 10s?
A 10-a-side format of the game that resembles sevens in terms of space and flow but with more structure.
Each side has a team of five forwards and five backs.
Scrummaging is contested and takes place between two tight fives, with no back row involved.
The scoring system is identical to sevens, with tries worth five points and conversions, which are also taken as drop-goals, worth an extra two points.
It is played over two ten minute halves.
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