The Final round of this year’s series took place at the University of Exeter Sports Ground as part of the larger Exeter 7s Festival of Rugby and alongside the FIRA Grand Prix and RFU 24/7 Regional Men’s and Women’s Open Qualifier. Whilst the day stayed dry a strong wind impacted on some passing and certainly the number of tries converted. One point separated four teams, Army Reds, England IPF, Ireland and Samurai One of whom would win the series on the day. Apache, GB Students, Red Wailers and Wooden Spoon Marauders were also fighting for positions mid-table whilst Forces Exiles and Ramblin Jesters were fighting for pride. Guest sides Exeter University and Orchard Pig joined them to complete the 12.
After comfortable wins for top sides Samurai and Ireland against bottom sides Jesters and Exiles the Army were then shaken by Exeter University who, strengthened by a generous helping of Exeter Chief’s academy won by 4 Tries to 2. A much weekend Students side, whose main squad had reached the Final of the Student World Cup in Swansea the day before, were also beaten by the Pigs. Whilst England, Ireland and Samurai came comfortably through their Pools the Army looked as if they were going out as the Wailers careful use of 7s tactics beat the University to lead Pool D. Even if Army could win it was still all about points difference but a 31-0 blitz took the Army from the bottom to the top of the Pool and put Wailers in the Plate.
All four Series contenders were now through to the Cup Quarters where Ireland were fortunate not to leave the fray as they allowed a determined Apache side to come back from 22-12 to draw with two Tries in the last minute. Quicker thinking by Apache could have ensured an easier conversion and a win however David Busby’s extra time Try took Ireland through. Forces Exiles, Exeter University and Orchard Pig also bowed out at this stage unable to stay in contention with the top seeds.
Meanwhile in the Plate Semis Wailers destroyed a tiring GB student side but Marauders and Jesters played through a titanic struggle with the lead changing four times however, despite a hat-trick by Benji Marfor, Marauders entered the final courtesy of Tim Bitrim’s last kick of the match. The final was more of the same as Wailers, having scored first, then had to come back from behind to win 17-15 and this time it was Robert Parker’s conversion, which made the difference and secured the Plate.
The Semi-finals then contained the four sides who could win the Series and these matches did not disappoint in determination and skill. Samurai made the brighter start against the Army with the first two scores. Army pulled one back but Samurai were soon two ahead again. In the end it took too long for the Army to break down Samurai’s defense and their second score was too late in the game with Samurai holding possession as the clock wound down. The battle of the two international sides was an intense and bruising encounter with England taking an early lead then responding when Ireland replied for the first time to hold a 9-point advantage. Ireland had a strong side bolstered with the confidence of having just won promotion to the FIRA Grand Prix series for 2017 and they pressed hard with two converted Tries to lead by five in the closing stages. It took a try from Ryan Jeffery, on loan from Apache and the conversion from Player of the Series Cam Cowell to see England squeeze past to take the second Final spot.
The last game of the Series was held in Sandy Park in front of a 3000+ receptive crowd. The standard of play was certainly worthy of such a setting, taking place before the FIRA finals. Although affected by player availability four of England’s team, Charlton Kerr, Dam Temm, Oskar Hirskyj-Douglas and Cam Cowell had played throughout the tournament to underpin the side and score more than 200 points between them. For Samurai, now strengthened by 3 of the Kenyan national squad, two players, Adrian Curry and Rowan Halsall had been at the heart of their campaign. There were two quite different styles on display, the youth, skills and discipline of England’s young squad against the greater experience and physicality of Samurai who scored first through Dennis Onbachi converted by Arwel Robson playing in his first senior competition. England quickly replied through Hirskyj-Douglas but as Cowell’s play-making opportunities were targeted by Samurai they began to dominate and struck twice through Lloyd Lewis and Michael Agevi, the latter converted by Round three’s Most Valuable Player, Robson. The final turning point of the game came in the second half when England broke free on the right but were hunted down and stopped just short of the line.  Samurai stood firm and at the whistle deserved winners of Round Three and the 2016 Series title.