THIS year’s Kings of the 7s series, which seemed to be turning into a one-horse race in round six when Watsonians opened up a 19-point gap at the top of the table with a fourth consecutive (and fifth overall) win at Langholm, has ended up going right to the wire, with the crown still up for grabs going into the tenth and final tournament of the campaign at Jed-Forest tomorrow [Saturday].
With the distraction of their 15-aside season finally over, Melrose have mounted a late rally in the last fortnight – triumphing at Kelso and Earlston then losing to the hosts in the final at Selkirk – to scramble their way back to within striking distance of top spot.
The Myreside men are still seven points clear at the summit of the table, so a victory in their first round match against Gala will be enough to secure the title on the basis that they have won more tournaments than their Border rivals [they get three points for reaching the last eight while the winners of the tournament get ten points], but Charlie McKill – the Scottish-born and Australian-raised breakaway forward who has been a key man in the Watsonians squad this spring – says that stumbling over the line would be a disappointing end to the campaign. He and his team are determined to sign-off in style.
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First tie is at 1.30pm
Round 1: Heriot’s v Hawick; Melrose v Musselburgh; Langholm v Hamilton; Edinburgh Accies v Kelso; Hearts & Balls VII v Peebles; Watsonians v Gala; Jed-Forest v Kirkcaldy; Selkirk v Boroughmuir.
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“Gala are a good side – we’ve played them a lot this year and we know what they are capable of – so it is obviously about nailing that down first,” he said. “But it is not only about winning the first tie, we also want to crack on and win the tournament. We know what we are capable when we are playing well, and with the full squad back together we’re in pretty good shape.
“We went through that middle stretch of the series as the best side, but we haven’t been that the last couple of weeks, so we want to finish on a high.”
From the Sunshine Coast to Myreside
With a mop of scraggily hair, browned skin and generally laid-back demeanour, McKill comes across as the archetypical Australian surfer, but his connection with Scotland – and with Watsonians in particular – runs deep.
“I was born here, for starters,” says the 22-year-old. “My Dad – Donald – was a good player, apparently. He played for and captained Watsonians back in the day, so he was a big influence, along with my uncle Stuart; and my Grandpa Lawson was a former president and played for the club as well.”
“The family used to own Lawson’s Timber yard on Lady Lawson Street in Edinburgh but my Dad sold the business and we moved to Australia soon after that in 2005, when I was 10-years-old.
“My mum is a midwife and at the time there was a big shortage of midwives in Australia so they were offering visas and there wasn’t a big waiting list to get in, so my parents just took the opportunity. Initially, they were only going to go for a few years, but it is 13 years down the track now and I don’t think they’ll ever come back to live here. They’ve got a pretty cracking spot, right on the beach, and a pretty good lifestyle.
“I remember bits and pieces of living in Edinburgh, and my mum and dad regularly brought us back over here to make sure we familiarised ourselves with the area and stayed in touch with the family.
“Dad and I would always get up and watch the Six Nations in the middle of the night if Scotland were playing, and it was definitely always Scotland over Australia when they played each other. Dad took us to the Lions Tests when they played in Australia in 2013, and he actually played a big part in them coming out to train for a week in our home town of Noosa because he was big mates with Andy Irvine, who was the tour manager – so that was pretty cool to see.”
After arriving in Australia, the McKills settled in Noosa, two hours north of Brisbane on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Charlie initially played his rugby at the local club, and then as a boarder at Nudgee College in Brisbane. He gained an urban and regional planning degree, majoring in property, at University of Sunshine Coast then worked in that sector for a year whilst playing A-Grade club rugby and representing Queensland Country, before heading over to Edinburgh.
“It was always something I wanted to do, and it just seemed like the right time,” he explains. “I’ve come over with two schoolmates who were also keen to test the waters and try out Edinburgh as a place to live, so they were a massive influence on me making the decision to give it a try.”
The trio arrived in February and were put to work by former Watsonians president David Harris in a whisky bottling factory in Broxburn. “It’s good. 6am to 2pm every day so early mornings – but we just knock it out and have the rest of the day to train or enjoy Edinburgh,” says McKill.
Making a mark at Melrose
With Watsonians building towards two semi-finals in the league and the cup, there was little scope for McKill to break into the 1stXV at the tail-end of last season, so he had to make do with a couple of 2nd XV appearances. He missed the start of the Sevens season because he was playing in the Hong Kong 10s with local side Kowloon, so made his debut on the circuit at Melrose. It was a baptism of fire which turned into a great day for the player and the club.
“It was a massive team effort – from one through to ten – we just believed that we could go on and win it, a lot of people didn’t but we did – it was really exciting,” he reflects.
“They aren’t necessarily better athletes [on the Border sevens circuit] than you get in Australia but they are definitely better rugby players,” he continues. “They just know the game and know what each person is going to do. That’s definitely the case at Watsonians – everyone knows 100 per cent what the man inside is going to do, and we can all trust each other to stick to our systems. We’ve got a good coaching team there for the Sevens in Mike Kerr and Conan Sharman, and David Harris as team a manager is pretty helpful and knowledgeable as well.”
McKill, who was invited in to train with the Scotland 7s squad this week, is planning to stick around for at least the next year to see where the rugby takes him, and the fact that Watsonians are set to become a Super 6 franchise the season after that has not escaped his attention.
“It is definitely appealing. If things keep going the way they are going now then I’d definitely like to stay-on, for sure. Home is back in Australia now, but it is always going to be there, and it will always be a nice place to go back and visit,” he says.
“Like anyone else, the dream is to play for Scotland, for sure. There is still a long way to go but it is nice that somebody at a higher level [Scotland 7s] has noticed you. I’ve just got to keep performing for the club because Watsonians have been good to me and I really do like representing them because of the rich family history we’ve got.”
There is going to be plenty of competition for places in the back-row at Myrside next season, but McKill is hoping he can bring a different dimension to the team.
“I like to think I’m quite an expansive rugby player, I like to play on the fringes – even though the coaches aren’t as happy about that sometimes,” he chuckles, when asked what he could bring to Stevie Lawrie’s side. “I’ll hit rucks and work hard when I need to, but I always like to have a bit of a trot on the outside and see how we go.
“From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a good standard in the Premiership. A lot more physical than back home. The pitches are slower, it always seems to be pretty wet during the rugby season over here, so if I can just offer something different to the squad next year that would be great.”