England star Dylan Hartley praised the atmosphere at Bury Rugby Club as a record crowd took in the Premier International Sevens festival.
More than 3,000 fans attended Sunday’s event at The Haberden, eclipsing the 2,500 who watched on 12 months ago, as Premiership giants Northampton Saints ensured Samurai Barracudas ended up runners-up for a second successive year.
Bury St Edmunds Rugby Club chairman Mike Robinson hailed the event, in its sixth year, as the biggest and best yet with crowds able to watch on from the sidelines and on the bank under glorious sunshine.
“It has been a fantastic day,” he said. “The crowd have been awesome.
“They have really come down, supported the day and the teams, seen some of the best Sevens rugby they will ever see and have really appreciated that.
“Clearly word has got out about the quality of the tournament as we welcomed a record crowd over 3,000 people down here watching.”
The Bury chairman praised their star guest, England and Saints hooker Hartley, with him even seen mucking in to help a volunteer empty a wheelie bin.
“Dylan has been enormous,” said Robinson. “He has had a lot of people wanting pictures and autographs and nothing has been too much trouble for him.
“I have been talking to him and he has been saying what a wonderful atmosphere it was and how much he has actually enjoyed coming down and watching it and it is good to see players of his quality and standing can connect with grassroots rugby as we have here.”
Leicester Tigers, managed by former Irish international Geordan Murphy, had been highly fancied in the elite competition.
Despite including first-team players such as Steve Mafi and Terrence Hepetema in their side, they were knocked out of the quater-finals by Sale Sharks, which Robinson said underlined the quality of the event.
Hartley was able to present the trophy to his Northampton Saints teammates, who included first-team players Paul Diggin and Tom Collins, after they came from two converted tries down in the final to seal a 31-21 win. This came despite having to draft in Irish Exiles’ Ciaran Connolly due to injuries.
It was their second victory in Bury after winning the inaugural event in 2009, with Hartley presenting the player-of-the-tournament to Cam Dolan, who bagged a hat-trick of tries in the final.
Worcester Warriors were the plate winners, while the host club’s women’s team, Bury Foxes, lost 19-12 to Wymondham in the final of their inaugural four-team women’s tournament.
Bury’s Wolverines side took part in the eight-team open competition and lost in the Plate final to Belgium D.
Culford School won the Bowl final, a competition for teams finishing third in their group, 31-17 against Ipswich.
Robinson hailed the work of the club’s army of volunteers who helped make the event such a success and told people to get the same Bank Holiday weekend in their diaries for next year.