Since a few seasons, a small collection of former King’s College School students in Wimbledon are entertaining the 7s circuit with colourful stash, creative social media campaigns and above all fine 7s skills.
The King Prawns 7s began their fairy tale by playing just a tournament or two each year according to co-captain Gareth Stoppani, who shares the role with his mate Will Slater. It was in 2007 or 2008, apparently, there are some contentious issues about the exact launch year when the ex-students met up to compete at regional competitions.
However, those quiet days are long gone as the Prawns are now a competitive outfit, traveling up and down the country to extend a phenomenal current winning record of 82 out of 84 matches. Usually, they enter eight to ten tournaments per season, ranging from international events such as the famous Kinsale 7s in Ireland to tiny local ones.
They are not scared to face the best in business. Last year they won the Bournemouth 7s Open, one of the hardest comps in the UK. It was an emotional affair, Gareth revealed. Beating the Navy Sharks in the last play of the final, after trailing for most of the match, was the pinnacle of a busy season. “I’ll admit I may have shed a tear as the boys invaded the pitch at the end”, the captain reflected on this wonderful moment.
Now, some might wonder what was the turning point. How did the Prawns become such a strong contender? In Gareth’s opinion, it’s all about a solid base. Success comes from creating the side around a group of mates that originally started the team and know each other inside out. That’s how the desire to play for each other and win together evolves from.
Social Debrief - Prawn suit. Dead. After a brief stint together, our beloved Prawn Suit was sadly misplaced as the festivities got the better of us. The Crown and Sceptre didn't make it past 5pm. Never fear, a new one will be purchased for our mascot @kinsalerugby7s - thanks to all that attended #allez #kingprawns #rugby #london #sevens #summer #beer #manybeers #toomanybeers #wego #minotaur
On top of a very strong core group of original team members, the Prawns did well on the recruitment front and bolstered the squad with good quality players they’ve met along the way. However, to become a Prawn, it’s not just vital to have strong skills on the pitch but foremost being a good bloke off the pitch, Gareth clarifies.
The social aspect is something the Prawns take seriously. Committing 100% to the many social gatherings is part of the team’s mission. Check out their entertaining Instagram posts and you know what we mean. We asked Gareth if they train together regularly? No, not regularly, he responded, but we “drink together regularly though” and as every experienced rugby player knows, a good night out with the squad is still the best team bonding session.
Nevertheless, the Londoners have worked hard to prepare for a momentous season. Marcus Blackburn, a former Kings College rugby coach, with a long and successful 7s coaching career, has shared his wisdom with the Prawns which helped immeasurably. Knowing each other extremely well is another key factor to win games.
Blackburn has also been a fantastic advocate for Gareth’s personal career, helping him and teammate Marcus Webb to get involved with the Jamaica 7s squad. Thanks to Gareth’s heritage, he recently joined the Jamaican squad. Not a bad decision, considering that the Jamaicans qualified sensationally for next year’s Rugby Sevens World Cup and Commonwealth Games, without a doubt the biggest success in the countries rugby history.
Running a team with such a full diary has its challenges though. Gareth explained how availability can become an issue, considering that the Prawns are an amateur team. Everyone has their full-time job and weekend commitments. But luckily the boys enjoy playing so much that they make the required sacrifices, although they’ve been left short a couple of times in the past.
In addition, it’s the common issue to have enough money in the bank to fund the kit and tournament entries. But fundraising efforts through sponsorship have been successful. The Australian swimwear brand Budgy Smuggler and the App company Huggle support the Prawns, which helped hugely.
It’s no doubt the King Prawns are in a decent place with a strong squad at hand, great support and plenty of socials to look forward. No wonder the next steps are ambitious. From here, it’s all about to carry on the winning formula and helping younger players experience 7s at a high level.
We want to leave a mark on the 7s scene, representing a superb team with a great bunch of blokes off the pitch, Gareth envisions the future.
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