Picture the scene. Youíve just played a frenetic game of sevens, your lungs and throat roar with that familiar post game burn whilst your drenched in sweat thanks to the 28 degree sun filled furnace - life for a few minutes at least seems tough. But hang on thereís a caveat. Thatís right because youíre in South West Spain slap bang on the Costa de Luz and an arm lengths away from a causal dip into the ocean providing the ultimate refreshing and revitalising break between matches. Introducing El Puerto Sevens. Thereís a good chance those of you who ply your trade on the European Sevens circuit might be familiar with the relatively fresh El Puerto. So let us enlighten ourselves on the background story to this increasingly popular tournament entering itís 3rd year this weekend (30-31st of May).
Picture the scene. You’ve just played a frenetic game of sevens, your lungs and throat roar with that familiar post game burn whilst your drenched in sweat thanks to the 28 degree sun filled furnace - life for a few minutes at least seems tough. But hang on there’s a caveat. That’s right because you’re in South West Spain slap bang on the Costa de Luz and an arm lengths away from a causal dip into the ocean providing the ultimate refreshing and revitalising break between matches. Introducing El Puerto Sevens.
There’s a good chance those of you who ply your trade on the European Sevens circuit might not be familiar with the relatively fresh El Puerto. So let us enlighten ourselves on the background story to this increasingly popular tournament entering it’s 3rd year this weekend (30-31st of May).
‘We used to organise a beach 7s event which was fairly low-key with local teams, usually from within the club and a couple from Sevilla. The club wanted to raise the bar a bit, so as a result the tournament proper was arranged for the first time in 2007,’ said Justin Roberts, the tournament director here along with Gonzalo Olias.
The tournament’s headquarters can be found at the Club de Rugby Atlético Portuense based in the El Puerto de Santa Maria near the southern westerly tip of Spain close to Cadiz. The club narrowly missed out on promotion in the National B league (Madrid and south) with a talented squad, as they continue to make small strides as each season passes by. With rugby still a relatively new sport in the region the club sits comfortably as one the oldest in the region celebrating its 35th birthday this year, steeped in tradition and regarded as one of the most amiable clubs around.
Last year’s tournament was certainly glammed up my two stars of the world game in England’s World Cup winner Ian Balshaw and 81 capped All Black Justin Marshall. They were rocking out for a Gibraltar based team called Pillars of Hercules (POH), who deservedly went onto to win the premier ‘Gold’ tournament.
‘Iain was at school with a lot of the POH guys and out in Spain on a family holiday along with Justin, so I guess that's how they got drawn in. We were really lucky to have them along and they were great about everything. It's just the sort of thing rugby in countries like Spain needs.’
12 men's and 6 women’s sides will be battling it out this year at the one day shindig that was praised by both Balshaw and Marshall last year as a slick operation played out under fantastic conditions. With the referees some of the best in the country and a liason officer also on hand for each team Roberts is showing some sensible wisdom in making sure ‘team experience’ is the best it can possibly be. Ball-boys ensure the play continually flows whilst the manicured lawns of the Club de Rugby Atlético Portuense is an ideal setting for some open and attractive sevens.
Despite being a relatively small tournament, the quality of some of the sides that Roberts and co can pull in should be noted. With the POH boys tied up with wedding commitments this weekend, it opens the field out again. Cascais, a Portuguese based team, are always sending a team but face a stern examination from Spanish based squad the Viator Barbarians and the English Worcester Wanderers who are enjoying ‘tour’.
The tournament seems to be well received with locals swelling the club for this now highly anticipated annual event. The club owns a section of an old sherry bodega, which has been restored into a major clubhouse and restaurant bustling with the Spanish ambiance - another refreshing authentic touch. that a touring 7 could expect, according to its organiser.
‘Non-playing locals eat and drink there so the club has quite a strong profile in El Puerto. We manage to get up to 2000 spectators for big games - off the back of a bit of a promotional push!’
Arguably El Puerto’s unique selling point is the region itself. It nestles amongst the gorgeous backdrop of the Costa de la Luz, which is laced with untarnished and rugged coastal landscapes and blanket white beaches acting as an ideal getaway. Yet don’t be fooled for this part of the world is often more fiesta then siesta.
‘A visit to a sherry bodega is a must. If your ideas of sherry are informed by what your granny drinks, you will be surprised. There's really good nightlife in El Puerto, even better in Cadiz just over the bay and Sevilla is an hour and ten away on the train,’ says Roberts.
For the more active types there is an abundance of good kite and wind surfing in the area and opportunities to take part in paragliding in the sierra just over an hour away from El Puerto. Or what about a visit to a classic Spanish Bull-Ring for the red blooded individual in the party? The popularity of the area amongst the Spanish themselves, and not just the odd foreign tourist, is another indicator that this is a special place to visit. In fact it’s an ideal location if you are looking to get away from the laddy British booze culture that often tarnishes other renowned Spanish hotspots such as Marbella and Benidorm – places with their own renowned Sevens tournaments. El Puerto seems to be much more of a refined connoisseurs choice.
‘Those other high profile tournaments are on a much higher scale than us in Spain, although Marbella seems to have folded this year at least. Our goal is a small, relaxed, but high quality tournament with loads of fun afterwards. El Puerto town is very Spanish, giving a visitor a different but genuinely more authentic experience,’ added Roberts.
With air-time of the event being provided through a sponsorship deal in the local press, the tournament and sport in general has received some quality air-time in the weeks building up to the event. This guarantees coverage in an area usually exclusively dominated in a sporting capacity by football.
In fact Rugby is receiving more coverage the ever thanks to the formation of Liga Superiberica providing semi-professional rugby for the masses. This in fact could be of great importance to El Puerto in the future with increasing attention towards rugby, potentially acting as a catalyst for attracting sponsorship. The €2800 total riches on offer here this year would suggest they are doing just fine and Roberts has confidence.
‘I'm certain it will carry on as it been a great success in every way. Although financially the last two years the club has taken a hit, we are hoping to cover costs this year though, or at least be very close. Sponsorship is tricky because we are not football, but things are getting better on that front, so who knows. I think having Rugby Sevens as an Olympic sport would be a massive boost. I just hope it happens.'