The most common questions that people ask me at tournaments is “Why the Samurai, how were they formed, and who plays for them?”
ULR Samurai International RFC is now 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 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. A sevens monster was born.
Initially self-funded, the team found it hard to attend all the numerous invitations they received from the all over the world, but with success came support from a number of local businesses. Samurai was soon to become a global phenomenon playing in Hong Kong, Dubai, the USA, Cayman Islands, Trinidad, Australia, Kenya, Zambia as well as many more. By the year 2000, Samurai had achieved notoriety not only in the UK but all over the world.
It was in the year 2000 that Samurai came of age with an invitation to the prestigious Middlesex Sevens tournament at Twickenham, an honour that very few invitational teams had ever received. With support from American company 3DFX, a team was put together with players from Fiji, Australia, South Africa and the UK. In their first visit to Twickenham the team were beaten in the quarter final by a Serevi led penguins team, who went on to win the tournament. The international flavour of the team was something that sat well with the Samurai committee, who then renamed the club Samurai International RFC.
At the end of the year, Norwich-based loss recovery specialists ULR signed a generous long-term sponsorship deal with the club which saw Samurai enter more tournaments around the world. ULR have been a fantastic supporter of the team and continue to be so. Without their help and generosity the team would never have been able to participate in so many tournaments.
Sporting their exclusive playing kit, which featured the famous ‘rising sun’ logo and full ULR branding, Samurai International RFC have gone on to achieve huge success all over the world with particularly notable victories in Las Vegas, Cayman Islands and of course contributing to a record-breaking nine Amsterdam titles, including six on-the-trot since 2005.
2010 saw Samurai win the inaugural nine-team UK National Sevens Series, pipping the British Army to the post over four gruelling tournaments across the UK. A hugely successful summer culminated in one of Samurai International’s most memorable victories – that of The Middlesex Charity Sevens. In a repeat of the 2009 final, a truly international Samurai side captained by South Africa 7s legend Marius Schoeman, gained revenge on English Premiership side London Irish, to lift arguably the most prestigious invitational trophy around.
2011 has seen the Samurai juggernaut have further success as they retained their titles by winning the UK National Sevens Series, piping the Social Vibe Pups in the final leg at Newquay to take the title. A hugely successful summer saw the team post wins at the Bury Premier 7s and the Manchester 7s with their only real disappointment losing narrowly to the HFW Wailers in the semi-final of the Amsterdam 7s and with it their run of 6 consecutive titles.
With high standard Sevens tournaments springing up all over the world there will be only so much corporate sponsorship available for event organisers and it was a real shame to find out that the 2011 Middlesex Charity Sevens will be the last one to be held at Twickenham, the home of English Rugby.
The ULR Samurai International team were determined to take their place in the history books by defending their title and defend it they did……
Kiwi Ed Cocker captained a star studded Samurai side producing some breath taking Sevens rugby in what was to be the highest winning score ever posted at the Middlesex Sevens as they beat Championship team Esher 55 - 12 in front of a large Twickenham crowd.
November & December 2011 saw the Samurai team face a very tough fixture agenda, entering the Safaricom 7s in Nairobi Kenya, The Gold Coast 7s in Brisbane Australia and the Dubai 7s in the UAE. The team’s success was nothing short of amazing as they became runners up in the Safaricom 7s, losing out in the final to IRB World Sevens Series team Samoa. Winning the Gold Coast 7s beating Fiji Club Champions Red Rock in the final and then moving on to Dubai, where they won a close final beating the HFW Wailers.
The Samurai International team has worked closely in the past with all the home nation sevens set ups, as well as other International teams such as New Zealand, Fiji, Australia and South Africa, to “blood” up and coming youngsters to prepare them for the international stage. The national teams have even “ghosted” as the Samurai International team at invitation tournaments, using their professional management support team and structure as much needed team practice prior to IRB WSS events.
It would take too long to list how many players Samurai have helped to develop in their Rugby careers and who have since gone on to gain International honours in both Sevens and the Fifteen a side game! Up and coming as well as experienced management teams from all over the world have also been used in assisting the Samurai team to identify and nurture talent.
With sevens’ inclusion in the 2016 Olympics, the sport is definitely on the up and Samurai International RFC is at the forefront of this evolution. To buy in to the team’s professional ethos and represent this famous team is an honour many players aspire to and will do for years to come.
Watch this space as the ULR Samurai International Team continue their journey…….