On Saturday November 19th, the Monaco Rugby Sevens triumphed on the synthetic turf of the Paris La Défense Arena. A nice revenge for the previous edition, where the Rouges et Blancs (Reds and Whites) lost in the final. It’s remarkable that the 24–14 victory brought the Monegasques the title of champions exactly on Monaco’s National day!
This warranted a special meeting by HelloMonaco with the coach Jérémy Aicardi in Monaco’s Rugby Sevens office to learn all about building a winning team and about the projects the league has currently underway.
Rugby-7s in a couple of words
The game of Rugby-7s was first invented in Scotland in the late 19th century. In 1883, butchers and rugby players, Ned Haig and David Sanderson, suggested that the local club reduce the standard number of players from 15 to 7, and to limit the match time to 15 minutes. These changes were intended to reduce the organizing costs. Under these new rules, the game did become a favourite in foggy Great Britain. England is still happily hosting its first ever Rugby-7s tournament, the Melrose Sevens.
In the early 1990s the new league expanded beyond British borders, joining the World Series organized by the International Rugby Board. In 2009, Rugby Sevens was classed as an Olympic sport.
Rugby Sevens is a particularly energy-consuming sport. The field’s size and its basic rules do not differ much from the original standard game, but only 7 players are allowed on the field at any one time, with 5 more in reserve. In a limited time, the athletes must demonstrate the best of their reaction, strength and endurance, sending the rugby ball into their opponents’ end-of-field score zone. For this very reason, the game shapes up to be more dynamic and entertaining than a classic Rugby-15 match.
A champion team from scratch
Just a few years ago Monaco decided to invest in this new sport. To build a dream team to defend the Principality’s reputation on the international arena, the rugby association recruited Jérémy Aicardi, a former professional Pro D2, French rugby sevens player and holder of prestigious champion titles.
Due to health problems, Jérémy retired from the professional sport at the age of 33. Years of intense training and competitions did take a toll on his neck ligaments, causing serious pains in his back. He then decided to take up coaching and moved to Belgium.
President of the Monegasque Rugby Sevens Association, Emmanuel Falco, then offered the successful athlete a chance to coach the new Monaco Rugby-7s elite as “Monaco League”. Jérémy Aicardi was thus faced with the challenge of literally putting together a team from scratch. To find good players, he did have to travel around. A tournament in Biarritz brought three new rugby players to the Monegasque team. Jérémy’s former rival, a South African, Cecil Afrika, is now also playing under the Principality’s flag. The team currently counts rugby players from Spain, Africa, Czechia, Lithuania, Belgium and Argentina. All of them happily accepted the coach’s offer, joining the Red and White ranks.
What is the main criterion in the players selection? According to the coach, it is speed, agility and knowledge of the game. Some of the Red and White players compete in the professional leagues. For others, rugby has become a heartfelt hobby. For the rest of the time, athletes do lead a normal life: family, friends and work. To keep his team in shape, Jérémy regularly develops and distributes training courses and gives nutritional advice. Training camp starts around 2 weeks before the competitions. Players get together to rehearse for 9 matches. A prior career as a professional athlete does help Jérémy find the right approach. He also happily takes advice from captain Johan Demaï-Hamecher. All in all, the coach is assisted by 12 specialists, monitoring the players’ physical condition and assisting in organization.
Last season, the Monegasque league was just one step away from the coveted title. The Red and Whites lost to the Barbarians “In Extenso Supersevens” final: 14–40. However, they do have valid success claims in the sporting world. The Principality still came second in this prestigious competition.
In 2022, the players performed a series of brilliant victories, once again claiming leadership “In Extenso Supersevens”. The final was set for a pivotal date: November 19th, Monaco National Day. Playing in the La Défense Arena in Paris, the Monaco Rugby Sevens team proved they were worthy of becoming national champions. The Red and Whites won over “Stade rochelais” (La Rochelle) and “Stade français Paris”. The final decisive match against “Section paloise” (Pau), however, was still to come.
But on a special day for the Principality, the Red and Whites team pulled everything together, winning the well-deserved title. Before heading off to the crucial game, the rugby players had been welcomed in the Princely Palace. Prince Albert II of Monaco personally acknowledged their hard work, inspiring Jérémy’s team toward a long-awaited historic victory.
What plans does this ambitious coach and athlete have in mind? Certainly, spreading the popularity of Rugby Sevens in Monaco and winning new prestigious titles.
Beyond that, the team is working on a sports academy project, planning to collaborate with the Principality’s educational institutions.