Denver, Colorado - the Mile High City - was the scene of the Spitfires' latest Rugby 7s adventure, at the inaugral International Defence Forces 7s, and they came home with their sixth trophy in as many tournaments.
The competition was held in conjunction with the US Armed Forces annual tournament, where the 5 arms of the American military vie for superiority. The event was supplemented by a French Defence Force side, 2 Australian Forces teams, the British Army and the RAF side.
The Spitfires enjoyed fantastic facilities at Denver's Infinity Park, which forms part of RugbyTown USA, a state-of-the-art complex designed solely with rugby training and competing in mind. After an intense week of altitude acclimatisation and training the first tournament day was played in beating sunshine. The Spitfires joined the other teams in parading Service flags around the Infinity Park pitch, before each respective National Anthem was played.
The RAF side got underway against the French Defence Force and found themselves a try behind following an interception. The scores weren't levelled until the second half when Flt Lt Jon Hall set up a scything switch with Flt Lt Matt Pereira who raced in under the posts. A penalty try finally edged the Spitfires ahead by 7pts but, with both sides reduced to 6 men, the French burst through in the final seconds and the conversion settled the 14-14 draw.
Second up was the Australian 'Gold' team, billed as the stronger of two Australian Army teams. The Spitfires suffered a nightmare start, with basic errors costing 2 scores against. Simple mistakes continued to cost them dear in the second half and, despite scores by Flt Lt Nick Monahan and SAC James Challenger, the Spitfires went down 33-12pts.
With one eye on their crucial final game the RAF men first had to face the British Army. Fijian might proved totally dominant and the old adversaries notched up 47 pts to nil.
Nothing but a win against Australia 'Green' would do and the Spitfires finally delivered a fitting performance. SACs Adie Gillespie and Richie Craig in particular hit their full stride, the latter bagging a brace in a 34-7pt victory. The vital win paved the way for a play-off against Australia Gold for 3rd in the International group, behind the Army and French DF.
On a second day of blazing sun it was a scorching hat-trick from Fg Off Lloyd Owen that sealed redemption for the Spitfires, against the Australians. A brutal contest had the sides at 12-12 at half-time but determination to right the wrongs of the previous day carried the day 26-12.
With the International group standings settled the foreign sides were then pitted against the US Forces teams, with the US Army first to take on the Spitfires. The gulf in class and experience was emphatically demonstrated, a fantastic solo finish from Craig the pick of the tries in a 38-7 RAF win.
The Spitfires followed up with a comfortable 28-10pt over the US Navy, with key tries from SAC Steve Parker and Cpl Toby Mann, and a typically impressive tackling performance from Flt Lt Rory Wood (captain). The win meant another Final for the RAF 7s, against the US Marine Corps, the strongest of the US teams, for the Bronze medal.
Despite their imposing physiques and weight of home support the USMC were neutralised by the Spitfires. The RAF performances had improved with each of the preceding 7 games and they hit their full potential in the Final, romping to an impressive 54-7pt win.
The Bronze medal is the 6th successive tournament title won by the Spitfires. Sqn Ldr Tim Barlow, RAF 7s Director, said of the win: "it's been another great tournament for us, despite a little frustration at not having finished even higher. The heat and altitude has been particularly punishing and, given the facilities here, the whole week here has been superb for our development."
The Spitfires last tournament this year will be the Dubai 7s at the end of November.