Ripley Rhinos joined NLD rivals Paviors and two specialist 7s outfits in Cobras and Trojans as the four clubs who won entry to the Lucozade Sport Sevens Performance Day at Twickenham on Friday 8th June 2012.
The maroons entered the competition ever hopeful of playing at the home of English rugby with Club Secretary Dave Trubee penning the 50 words explaining why they deserved the chance to play at Twickenham and found out they had been the lucky winners on four days before they were due to play.
The day was organised by Lucozade who worked with the teams to highlight the importance of hydration in elite sports performance (which Rhinos would never class themselves as being in any sense) but the Ripley squad took as much benefit from the session as the other teams.
With Ripley still pinching themselves for getting ready in the same changing room that usually is graced by the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Richie McCaw and Darren Morris, they went through a weighing and urine sampling to test the effectiveness of their pre-event hydration and ability to replenish the sweat lost during the event.
After that, and a question and answer session from the coaches taking them in the afternoon, including sprint expert Mike Antoniades, England 7s stars Christian Lewis-Pratt and John Brake and England Women's player Michaela Staniford, the maroons stepped onto the Twickenham turf for a warm-up with the other teams.
The stamina session that followed certainly had watching Ripley coach Carl Whitley taking note as his team were beasted for twenty minutes in an intense session that had them breathing from anatomically surprising locations, with the fitter and younger Danny Rymell and Sam Smith looking strong.
This was followed by a tactics session based from RFU Ladies coach Graham Smith and Staniford that worked on fast breakdown recycling before the Ripley squad hit the state of the art Twickenham gym to learn from Ryan Hicks - London Wasps EPDG Strength and Conditioning Coach. This was more a comfort zone for the team and sixty year old Ben Heanue excelled in the circuit set up.
Finally Rhinos were back out for Antoniades' speed session and he worked their fast feet hard for the last twenty minute period.
The whole squad were tired but buzzing at this point and looking forward to their fourteen minutes of glory against the Cobras outfit - but under no illusions that they'd be able to do more than try to slow up their semi-professional and youthful opponents.
Cobras kicked off, caught the ball, spread it wide and scored without Ripley touching the ball. Two more tries followed as Ripley did get some tackles in but Cobras easily found the space and gaps to accelerate through. Finally they erred on a kick off and the maroons had their hands on the ball for the first time in front of 84,000 empty seats. Despite the best efforts of skipper Will Evans and props Zeique Robinson and Keith Buzzard, Rhinos went into half time 35-0 behind.
Ripley rotated the squad with Heanue stepping onto the hallowed turf as possibly the oldest player to ever play competitively at HQ and immediately looked as strong as any around him. Ripley got closest to scoring when Adam Parr put an astute kick through for Rymell to chase but it went out on the 5-metre line and Robinson couldn't quite steal the subsequent lineout.
Cobras powered on but Ripley did get some possession and the chance to pout some phases together but not enough to threaten and came off at the final whistle grinning from ear to ear despite the 61-0 scoreline.
Cobras went on to easily dispose of Paviors in the final who had held the honour of the NLD up with an exciting win over Trojans in the other semi-final.
When it came down to the final awards presentations, Ripley were delighted that the coaches had agreed that Ben Heanue had looked the strongest player playing on the day from all the teams and he took that award.
Rhinos took home a day full of wonderful memories and can thank Lucozade and the staff at the RFU for giving them the opportunity to play at Twickenham.
Rhinos continue with their social Touch Rugby sessions for players of all abilities and gender on a Monday evening, with Tuesdays being devoted to SAQ Fitness sessions that again are open to all, rugby players or not. Both sessions run on the grass at the back of the Beehive, starting at 7pm. For more details, ring 07816 779018.