NEWCASTLE FALCONS might have decamped to Darlington for this evening’s Premiership Rugby Sevens, but for their skipper, the six-game tournament represents a rare opportunity to play on home soil.
Tom Catterick was born and raised in Darlington, and played for Darlington Mowden Park until under-15 level, at which point he was offered the opportunity to join Falcons’ academy at Kingston Park.
He has subsequently developed into one of the club’s leading full-backs, but continues to live a couple of minutes away from Darlington’s Northern Echo Arena, which will host tonight’s pre-season tournament as the new artificial pitch at Kingston Park has not been completed in time.
Tonight’s fourth leg of the Premiership Sevens series pits Falcons against Leicester Tigers, Sale Sharks and London Welsh in a round-robin group format, with the top two finishers earning a place at the Premiership Sevens Series final at Twickenham Stoop.
The event is something of a curtain-raiser for the new Aviva Premiership season, which begins at the start of next month, but while much more important matches are still to come, the setting for tonight’s tournament means Catterick in particular will be desperate to put on a show.
“I don’t get the chance to play much in Darlington now, so I’m definitely going to be trying to make the most of it,” said the 23-year-old. “It’s my hometown and it’s great that it’s getting to host something like this.
“I played most of my junior rugby at Mowden Park, although that was when the club was based at Yiewsley Drive so I haven’t actually played in the new stadium.
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure there’ll be a few faces knocking around that I know, and my mum and dad (Barbara and Kevin) are both flying in from Kuwait, where they live now, so they’ll be there to watch too.
“It’s obviously not as big or important as the Premiership, but you only have to look at our record in the previous sevens competitions we’ve been in to see how seriously we’ll be taking this. We definitely want to win.”
Falcons have topped their group in each of the three previous Premiership Sevens tournaments they have entered, and while there must have been a temptation to use today’s event to blood a host of the club’s youngsters, coach Mark Laycock has selected a squad boasting plenty of experience.
Catterick is a regular at first-team level in XVs, while Sean Brown, Andy Davies, Chris Harris, Simon Hammersley and Ben Morris were all heavily involved in Newcastle’s sevens campaign in 2013.
“We’re bringing a squad down that’s got a few young players, but there’s quite a bit of experience in there as well,” said Catterick. “It’s a bit of a curtain-raiser for the XVs season, and there’ll be a few of the young lads hoping to catch the eye to force their way into the reckoning for that.
“But first and foremost, this is something we 100 per cent want to win. We’ve just started doing a bit of contact work in training now after a pretty hard pre-season in terms of getting fit, and the lads can’t wait to release a bit of energy by getting stuck in to some matches.”
The profile of sevens rugby has exploded in recent years, with last weekend’s sevens tournament at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow attracting more than 150,000 spectators into Ibrox Park over the course of a single weekend.
In two years time, rugby sevens will make its Olympic debut in Rio, and its addition to the Olympic programme should ensure the shortened version of the sport continues to attract a high level of interest and investment from the Rugby Football Union.
England are developing a squad of sevens specialists, who rarely cross over to play the 15-a-side game, but while the group of players that competed in Glasgow are already well on the way to appearing in Rio, Laycock insists there is still time for some of this evening’s participants to force their way into the Olympic frame.
“There’s definitely a chance of that happening,” said the Falcons coach. “Sevens rugby is evolving pretty quickly and the profile is growing all the time.
“I’m quite sure the England guys will be represented here this weekend and they’ll be on the look-out for potential talent. To be fair, there’s pretty good communication with the clubs anyway so they have a good idea of who’s coming through at a variety of levels, but there’s nothing like doing well in a high-profile tournament to get your name noticed.
“If someone shows up really well here, they could do themselves a power of good in terms of the future.”
And with exciting, attacking rugby pretty much guaranteed, it should be an equally rewarding evening for the fans in attendance at The Northern Echo Arena.
“I’d never talk down the XVs game, but you can get a filthy night in the Premiership with a game that finishes 3-0 and it probably isn’t going to be the most exciting,” said Catterick. “Sevens is the complete opposite to that.
“It’s the middle of the summer, you’ve got a lot of really fast players who want to attack, and there should be tries going in all over the place. It should be a great watch.”