“A great success for Hartlepool rugby and the town.”
So said team manager John Bickerstaff after Seymour Civil Engineering-sponsored Hartlepool won the Shield final at the Bangkok International Rugby Sevens.
The town side, made up of players from five Hartlepool & District clubs, plus two guests from the management’s link up with Hong Kong rugby, beat Lao Nagas 19-5 to clinch silverware.
But John explained that the measure of success went beyond being able to hold a trophy aloft at the Patana International School in the Thai capital.
“Hartlepool came out to compete in a brilliant competition and we’ve come away with something,” he said.
“That’s what we intended to do and I’m thrilled that we did that.
“We were making a step into the unknown really in terms of the standard we were coming up against.
“Many of the teams here were either national sides or teams who play together all the time.
“And you had the Pacific Warriors who had two former All Blacks playing for them.
“Our lads played very well, which is testament to them as players, we had limited sevens experience and had never played together before as a side.
“We were also contending with the heat and humidity, something nearly all the other teams were accustomed to
“But credit to the players for the way they performed.
“With the exception of the second group game, against the Thailand Development side, we were in with a chance of winning every match.
“Hartlepool has come out to Bangkok and performed on the international field and it’s something the town can be proud of.
“It’s much more than that, the name Hartlepool is out there and in a good light, and that’s down to our sponsors, people like Seymours Civil Enginnering.
“They have backed not just us as a squad but Hartlepool itself on the international stage.”
Hartlepool opened and closed the competition with victories against Lao Nagas, the Laos national sqaud.
The last win saw the squad at their best, contending not only with intense heat and humidity but vibrant opponents, to take the Shield, 19-5.
Hartlepool conceded a first-half unconverted try but responded magnificently.
The town side’s leading tournament scorer set them on their way, Jack McCallum breaking from half-way to score under the posts with a scintillating burst.
Cameron Lithgo converted for a 7-5 lead and it was soon 14-5 as Liam Austwicke went over from close range with Lithgo again adding the extras.
There was more to come as McCallum, Alex Rochester and Adam Smith all combined before Bailey finished in the corner.
Hartlepool had finished day one third in Group A
After a 15-14 victory over Lao Nagas in the opening fixture, they were defeated 24-7 by All for One (Thailand’s national development team), before losing 12-0 in the decider for second place, to Kazakh side, Olymp.
In the knock-out phase, they conceded two very late tries to lose to Spanish side Wiss, 24-14, before an agonising 21-19 loss to Chulalongkorn University, when Liam Austwicke’s conversion attempt with the last kick of the game went narrowly wide.
However, Hartlepool finished on a high with that Shield success over Lao.