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Stakeholders glow, as Friends of Rugby Independence 7s envelops Onikan Stadium

By Christian Okpara, with agency reports   |   07 October 2016   |   2:45 am
Cowrie Rugby Club Captain, Azeez Ladipo, led his team to victory at the last Independence 7s in Lagos.

Cowrie Rugby Club Captain, Azeez Ladipo, led his team to victory at the last Independence 7s in Lagos.

It is not all the time that the bigwigs in a certain sport gather in one venue to savour the game they love, especially when the participating teams are drawn from different countries. That explains the excitement among Nigerian rugby faithful over the Independence 7s tournament scheduled to hold this weekend in Lagos.

The rugby festival, a collaboration between the Friends of Rugby and the Lagos State Sports Commission, is the eighth in the Independence series, and according to the organisers, among the teams coming for the show are the Samurai Bulldogs, the Zambia National 7s team and Alexandria Rugby Club of Egypt.

They will compete with Nigerian clubs at the Onikan Stadium on Saturday and Sunday for the Independence Ruby 7s trophy.

The independence Rugby 7s tournament, which is an annual rugby event staged to commemorate Nigeria’s Independence anniversary, is sponsored by CMB Building Maintenance and Investment Co. Ltd.

The competition started in 2009 and has since grown to be the biggest Rugby 7s party in Nigeria, with its 2013 edition featuring a wider international participation with clubs from the United Kingdom, Egypt and Ghana.

According to the organisers, this edition promises to be bigger and better with 13 local teams and three international teams’ battle ready for this year’s trophy.

Rugby sevens, also known as seven-a-side, Sevens or VIIs, is a variant of rugby union in which teams are made up of seven players, instead of the usual 15
The format is administered by World Rugby, the body responsible for rugby union worldwide.

The game originated in Melrose, where the Melrose Sevens tournament is still played annually.

The game is popular at all levels, with amateur and club tournaments generally held in the summer months. Sevens is one of the most well distributed forms of rugby, and is popular in parts of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Explaining the origin of the Nigerian festival, the organisers in a brochure said it was started in 2009 by a group, ‘Friends of Rugby,’ and has since grown to be the biggest Rugby 7s party in West Africa.

It added that the 2014 tournament had in attendance the then executive governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, who handed over the trophy to eventual winners, Cowrie RFC.

The organizers disclosed that they chose Onikan Stadium, Lagos, as venue because it has a capacity of 5,000 and is the oldest stadium in Nigeria.

“Located on the southeastern corner of Lagos Island near Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), the original stadium was built in 1930 and six years later named after King George V. Between 1963 and 1973, it became known as the Lagos City Stadium,” the organisers said.

For the players and fans, who may be coming to Nigeria for the first time, the organisers tried to explain the unique position of Lagos in the West African sub-region, saying that the city’s location is apt for a competition as important as Rugby 7s festival.

“Lagos is the most populous city in Nigeria, the second fastest-growing city in Africa and the seventh in the world. The population of Lagos according to the Lagos State Government was 17.5 million. Lagos is gradually becoming a major tourist destination.

“Currently, Lagos is primarily known as a business-oriented and a fast paced community. Lagos has a number of sandy beaches by the Atlantic Ocean a few are Badagry beach, Eleko beach, Elegushi, Alpha beach. Two of the popular beaches include Bar Beach and Lekki Beach. Lagos has a variety of hotels ranging from three stars to five star hotels.

“Other places of interest include The Tafawa Balewa Square, Festac town, Lekki Conservation Centre, The Remembrance Arcade and the Slave Jetty in Badagry. Lagos is currently taking steps to become a global city. The latest reports estimate the population at 21 million, making Lagos the largest city in Africa,” they said.

Among the teams coming for the competition, Samurai Bulldogs has the most renowned, having featured in many international championships.

Samurai Bulldogs are part of Samurai International RFC one of the most prestigious, recognised, and feared teams on the International circuit. Famed for their striking kit, professional attitude and on-field flair, they have grown into arguably the world’s most successful invitational sevens team,” the brochure explained.

The team was founded in 1996 by Terry Sands, when asked to enter a team into the 25th Amsterdam Sevens.

Inspired by the spirit and tenacity of the Japanese team at the 1995 World Cup, the new team was dubbed “Samurai Rugby” with the goal of encapsulating the passionate, adventurous and free flowing style of rugby of the ‘Cherry Blossoms’.

Playing fantastic running rugby in their striking, unique playing kit, the Samurai team won their first ever event, the prestigious Amsterdam 7s.

After catching the eye in the Netherlands, many more invitations were received to bring this exciting new team to other tournaments. In its inaugural year, Samurai won all three tournaments it entered. Now celebrating their Twentieth year and with the Independence 7s as their Twentieth tournament of the year Samurai are looking to add another trophy to the Eleven wins, Six runners up and two 3rd place finishes so far this year.

Nigeria’s foremost club, Cowrie RFC, was formed in 2005 by two Rugby enthusiasts (Dele Coker & Kelechi Mbagwu) with the aim to develop the game in Nigeria and empower youths to be independent in their walks of life.

They are defending champions of the independence 7s and the lads are relishing the opportunity to win it again on home soil despite stiff opposition this year.

Players to watch out for are winger, Onoru Jatto and center, John Oladele.

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