Such is the juggernaut that ULR Samurai International has become on the global sevens circuit, it’s odd not to consider them strong favourites at a tournament. 2010 has been another vintage year for ‘The Samurai’. A runners-up berth in Darwin was followed by stellar wins in Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Middlesex Sevens and of course on the UK’s inaugural National Sevens Series.
Such is the juggernaut that ULR Samurai International has become on the global sevens circuit, it’s odd not to consider them strong favourites at a tournament.
2010 has been another vintage year for ‘The Samurai’. A runners-up berth in Darwin was followed by stellar wins in Las Vegas, Amsterdam, Middlesex Sevens and of course on the UK’s inaugural National Sevens Series.
This weekend sees the global invitational outfit travel to Brisbane’s Gold Coast International Sevens, where the winner will walk away with a cool $20,000 AUD.
But lying in wait for them are reigning World Series champions Samoa (Samoa Barbarians) along with Australia (Australian Thunder) and an Emerging New Zealand side assembled by maestro Gordon Tietjens.
Ideally for the organisers perspective, the event is at an ideal window for international teams looking to get some practice in ahead of December’s Dubai Sevens – the start of the 2010/11 HSBC Sevens World Series.
“It’s quite amazing that the organisers have been able to put together a tournament of such high quality,” says Samurai International founder, Terry Sands.
“With Samoa, Australia and New Zealand all fielding their IRB teams it will be a very difficult tournament to progress in.”
Add to the mix class acts from Fiji like South Sea Drifters – led by Nasoni Roko - and Davetalevu combined with the young guns from the Waratahs and Queensland Reds you all of a sudden have an event with an intriguing blend of variety and quality.
With Samurai International now very much a global ‘brand’ the UK-based side will have a mainly Kiwi feel to it. The weekend will see a similar side that lost out to an inspired Borneo Eagles at the Darwin Sevens back in January, plus some stars.
Chad Tuoro captains a side littered with New Zealand Sevens experience such as Tim Nanai-Williams, Zar Lawrence, Edwin Cocker and Nafi Tuitavake. Watch out for hotshot Fijian speedster Patrick Osbourne too.
It’s an all-star side that could arguably run any side in the world close if they click.
With the men’s competition tougher to call at least Samurai can be quietly confident of success in the women’s competition.
“The ladies team will have some Australian club players and players from the world sevens champion Australia Amazon side,” adds Sands.
A safe bet – if there is such a thing in sevens...
Such is the case with any successful side there will be cynics and critics keen to criticise someone like Samurai. Maybe it stems from jealousy? The bounty hunter tag is an easy cheap shot but such are the costs in looking after an elite sevens squad on tour you have to be looking at some sort of return.
Samurai are backed by Norwich (UK) insurance brokers ULR who sponsor the side, paving the way for them to travel abroad to take in these exotic locations.
“Without ULR’s help we would not have been able to participate in any of the long haul international tournaments that we do. They have supported us for a long time and the management and players count themselves very lucky indeed to have such a wonderful sponsor,” explains Sands.
It makes financial and logistical sense of course for Sands to use his Australian and New Zealand contacts for a tournament like the Gold Coast. But do they lose their identify and the ‘club’s’ heartbeat by using vastly different teams on the National Sevens Series, Middlesex Sevens and Southern-Hemisphere events? Sands doesn’t think so and explains his approach.
“All invitation teams suffer with player availability problems at certain times of the year, whether this is due to club player release or players needing to take a well earned rest - even the British Army (National Series runners-up) suffer occasionally with player availability.
“It would be impossible for Samurai to field the quality of teams we do if we had to select solely from the UK. Our players actually enjoy mixing and playing with players from overseas as they make new friends and have some great experiences.”
And probably learn a thing or two about the game also.
Although the $20,000 would go down like a treat, such is Samurai’s burning competitive spirit you feel they are going to relish coming up against some of the Southern Hemisphere’s very best at the weekend. And if they did win, will the players be getting a special treat for their endeavours?! The ever-pragmatic Sands is unsure.
“I would try to pay off the credit card bill from the UK National Sevens Series and the Middlesex Sevens where victories came at a cost!”