Singapore success gives Kaleem Barreto and GB Sevens squad a timely boost

Despite three tier one nations all feeding into the programme, GB Sevens squad don't have the same backing as their rivals

Kaleem Barreto during a training match for the Scotland 7s team back in July 2022, just days before that programme was folded into a three-way Great Britain enterprise. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Kaleem Barreto during a training match for the Scotland 7s team back in July 2022, just days before that programme was folded into a three-way Great Britain enterprise. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

IT may have escaped your notice last weekend, given the four European semi-finals and the against-the-odds triumph of Currie Chieftains at Mansfield Park in the Premiership Final, but GB Sevens Men also stood up to be counted in Singapore.

They started the tournament in ninth place in the HSBC Svns world rankings, seven points behind the USA whom they needed to overtake to ensure their continued existence at the elite level. In fact, their bronze medal in Singapore probably ensured their continued existence full stop, if you listen to erstwhile Glasgow scrummy Kaleem Barreto.

Five Scots were involved over the weekend for the GB Men’s team in Singapore, none more influential than Barreto who scored an opportunist try in the must-win game over Australia having played every minute of every match bar the opening pool game against Ireland, which GB lost.


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“For those that don’t know, the Singapore result is probably job security for all of those involved in the GB Sevens, which is crazy to think about, but also pretty exciting for those involved,” says Barreto, “

Would GB really have shut the entire sevens programme had their team dropped out of the elite division?

“I don’t know,” Baretto concedes. “We would have lost a lot of the core squad and where that would leave us, I am not sure.

“We sometimes joke that it would be better to start from scratch than from where we have been, just because of where the programme is at, but it (the eighth place finish) is more a relief to those that want to enjoy another year of sevens.”

I am a little critical of GB’s results over the season and Barreto, with infinite reserves of patience, points out that while the results have been poor, the programme is a part-time, stop-start affair that is pitched against full-time, fully-funded squads in every other competing nation.

“It’s really interesting that you say that as someone who is on the outside,” and knows absolutely nothing, he is too polite to add. “I can understand that perspective. Three unions come together and you think there is more money, a plethora of players, and more quality. So everything seems to lead to being top eight or top four or even challenging for the title.

“I guess when all this happened [three unions joining together to compete in the Olympics] a few years ago, it was all a bit harum-scarum.

“We ended up with less budget, we are camp based which means we meet up …” he pauses and starts again. “For example, between Hong Kong and Singapore we met up for a three day camp and again two days before the tournament so we had four key sessions. We do all our running and gym work at home. So the contact time is far less than any other team on the (Sevens) series.”

Why, I ask the obvious question, do the three unions involved not simply fund the GB Sevens programme properly?

“It’s a conversation we have had a million times,” Barreto replies, going back to that well of patience. “We can be exploited. All of us involved have a deep love for the game of sevens.

“From the surface you are thinking rich unions can afford to fund a proper programme but I don’t think the interest is really there. I think becoming GB was a good excuse not to have to put the funding and time into it.”

 

 

Team GB had already outperformed in the pool stages, beating the USA and Fiji, before winning their quarter-final against France by a margin, and then only losing their semi-final against Ireland in extra-time.

Despite calling himself “deceptively slow”, the Barreto scored straight from one restart, first to latch onto a loose ball, in that must win 3rd/4th place play-off against an Australian squad positioned well above them in the table. GB finished 26-7, comfortable winners, or as comfortable as anyone can get in a sport that, “has your lungs bleeding”, as Barreto vividly puts it.

But Baretto is not the only Scot to have shone in Singapore when it mattered most. Max McFarland scored the opening try in that Wallaby win and the Scottish speedster, returned to full fitness, had performed minor miracles throughout the tournament. Robbie Ferguson captains the GB squad, Ross McCann usually plays hooker but replace winger McFarland on the wing against Australia, and the veteran Jamie Farndale came off the bench for some rare game time in that final match against the Wallabies which saw GB finish one squeaky point above the USA.

Focus now turns to the season finale in Madrid, starting on 31st May, where the top eight teams, GB included, play for the cup. The bottom four sides, USA included, play against the top four finishers in the ‘Challenger Series’ for a spot at the top table next season. It is a test of resolve as much as anything physical.

Even then, the sevens season never really finishes and Barreto has one final goal, the Paris Olympics. Team GB plays against Spain, Canada, South Africa and a host of others in Monaco (starts 21st June) for the one remaining place at the big show.

“It’s funny,” Barreto muses out loud, “it’s not something as a rugby player that you grew up thinking about, becoming an Olympian, but I guess when it becomes a genuine potential it’s definitely something that everyone’s sites are set on. Interesting for sure.

“Hopefully with us peaking at the end of the season we can get ourselves over the line and make it to Paris.”


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About Iain Morrison 151 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

4 Comments

  1. Would like to see clubs getting more 7s tournaments in as well. The league and cup stretched this season due to so many weather related postponements which is a real shame. 7s tournaments and festivals are a great way for clubs to make money, players to develop and those who find 15s a bit dull to be one more engaged. It’s potentially a great way to get kids in state schools playing. Pre COVID there was a huge turnout for a forth valley 7s tournament with a lot of schools who hadn’t engaged with rugby before. Would be great to see it becoming more of a fixture in the calendar.

  2. Good luck to him and our lads, but I just feel nothing when watching GB7s. I’d also like to say it’s a pity that nowadays I almost feel I have to preface that with “I’m not some political monomaniac but…”!

    However, for me it’s the blue shirt or nothing. We should get the team back as soon as is feasible, even on the current GB semi-pro basis if needs be. We have precious few professional performance outlets/ development opportunities and the sevens has helped quite a few players come through.

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    • Absolutely, 7’s is a great outlet for developing young players. Our current age grade backs could certainly do with an opportunity to develop themselves at a high level. My son has played a few 7’s tournaments overseas, always returns sharp as a tack.

      It’s a scandal that there’s no Scotland 7’s squad, just another consequence of mis-management.

    • Does that mean you’re not that into the B&I Lions either? Fair enough if you’re not, personally for me no issue with the GB 7s team, which should hopefully mean more cash for Scottish men and women’s 15s game at a time of SRU debt.

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