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Wednesday, 15 August, 2001, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Sevens heaven
Waisale Serevi
Waisale Serevi holds aloft the Russell-Cargill trophy
BBC Sport Online looks back at the history and flavour of the Middlesex Sevens.

Twickenham plays host to the oldest Sevens competition in England on Saturday as the Middlesex Charity Sevens tournament celebrates 75 years.

Until the advent of professionalism in 1996 the Sevens, which will be shown live on Grandstand, had provided the traditional finale to the rugby union season.

Now it is the curtain raiser to the new season.

Pre-1996 the Sevens had the feeling of FA Cup third round day, a day when David had the chance of slaying Goliath.

Isetyn Harris
Harris' first taste of rugby union came in the Sevens
And David has had his day on a number of occassions - most notably with St Luke's College in 1959 and 1969, and Loughborough College in 1959, 1964,1966 and 1970.

The prize for the winners is the Russell-Cargill Memorial Trophy, named in recognition of a Scottish hospital doctor and member of the Middlesex RFU Committee.

He was inspired by the Sevens competition played in his native Melrose and in 1925 suggested the establishment of a similar event for Middlesex clubs - hence the name of the tournament.

A sub-committee of the Middlesex RFU subsequently agreed that all gate receipts would go to charity. The first competition in 1926 raised 1,621.

Over the following 75 years the tournament has become the rugby world's most famous charity event.

In the last decade over 3m has been raised in support of the Wavell Wakefield Rugby Union Youth Trust and the Middlesex County Rugby Football Union Memorial Fund.

The inaugural Sevens tournament, won by Harlequins, saw 50 clubs competing on a knock-out basis with the final rounds played at Twickenham.

Harlequins have won more Middlesex Charity Sevens titles than any other side - a lucky 13 times in all.

Telephone kiosk

Since 1934, with the exception of the Second World War years, guest sides have been invited to play in the Sevens each year.

In 1996, as relations between rugby union and rugby league began to thaw, Wigan were invited and the Lancashire side went on to win the tournament.

Up to 1992 those guest sides were drawn from other home unions or from English clubs celebrating centenaries.

But after a hurricane in Western Samoa that year, an invitation was extended to the Pacific side and 50,000 was raised to help with the restoration of their damaged pitches and club-houses.


It didn't used to be taken too seriously and was seen more as a party day - the whole atmosphere has changed
Nigel Starmer-Smith
Since 1992 teams from South Africa, Kenya, Italy, South America and New Zealand have taken part.

The Penguins, an invitational side who call on players from all over the globe, are the present holders having won the past two competitions.

Waisale Serevi starred in those victories and, according to BBC commentator Nigel Starmer-Smith, is a player who has all the qualities - "pace, acceleration and the ability to beat three men in the space of a telephone kiosk" - that you need to excel at this form of rugby.

Last year Iestyn Harris, who has just completed his 2m move to Cardiff, got his first taste of rugby union playing for the Rhinos' sister team, Leeds Tykes.

Festival

The popularity and atmosphere of the Sevens, particularly pre-1996 was derived from the qualifying tournament which attracted hundreds of entries from junior clubs and old boys teams - in 1974 Old Emanuel famously beat both Rosslyn Park and London Irish.

It was also seen as a social occasion in the rugby calendar; a chance to crack open a bottle of bubbly, nibble on smoked salmon sandwiches and then shout yourself hoarse in support of the underdog.

In the seventies rugby fans got the chance to see the likes of Gareth Davies, John Dawes and JPR Williams - then all members of the Lions - appear on the same stage in one day.

"It was a special day in the rugby season, an end-of-season festival that encompassed all levels of the game," says Starmer-Smith.

"It didn't used to be taken too seriously and was seen more as a party day."

A party day that in prize money is now worth 50,000 to the winners, with 20,000 going to the runner-up and 10,000 each to the losing semi-finalists and the Plate winner.

This year's competition will see Harlequins fight it out with Saracens, London Irish, London Welsh, Wasps, Sale Sharks, Bath, Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Blackheath and Leeds.

Grandstand will be coming live from Twickenham on 17 August. The first action on the pitch will be broadcast at 1410 BST.

See also:

13 Aug 01 |  Grandstand
Rugby Union is back
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