SCOTLAND Sevens coach John Dalziel is confident he has been able to select “the best possible squad” to take to the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast. Speaking for the first time since announcing the 13 players he will take to Australia, Dalziel accepted that in an ideal world he would have been able to choose Edinburgh centre Mark Bennett, who played for Team GB at the last Olympic Games.
The coach nonetheless appears happy with the squad he has got – seven sevens regulars, Darcy Graham and Glenn Bryce from Edinburgh, and Glasgow Warriors’ Matt Fagerson, George Horne, Ruaridh Jackson and Lee Jones.
“The selection process started as early as June, July, because this is obviously a really big year with the Commie Games and the World Cup,” Dalziel explained. “We’ve been looking at the windows of opportunity, with the PRO 14 teams also involved. We’ve had excellent dialogue with the pro coaches, and the governing body was involved in getting the best possible squad for Team Scotland.
“Obviously Glasgow’s season has been pretty cut and dried. The success they’ve had early in the season has almost meant they’ve had the confidence to say where they’re going to be. Edinburgh is different because they’ve hit such a vein of form. We had good dialogue with them, looking at the important games they’ve got but also the World Series events we’ve got.
“It made it easier to get availability from Glasgow, with them being nailed on, but we had constant dialogue with Edinburgh. Looking at the players from Edinburgh who would come into the Sevens remit, they’re all sort of in the same area. To take Darcy and Glenn Bryce, who have been playing really well regular for us, then the core lads like Dougie Fyfe and JJ [James Johnstone] who are also in at Edinburgh, it’s probably unrealistic to take all four of them – taking away two centres and two wingers at such a critical time.
“So we looked at the balance of the squad, including the seven core lads who have been performing really well. We want to have a real identity as Scotland Sevens. And the lads who are actually full-time in the programme are the experts, subsidised by really good professionals coming in.
Mark Bennett stays with Edinburgh
“Mark Bennett would be one of the first names on everybody’s lips at the beginning of the process. Mark is such a quality operator that, come the big games Edinburgh have, he’s probably going to start at 13 for them.
“It’s a mix of asking do we take him out of that environment, knowing he’s a GB player in Sevens. We have cover. Glenn Bryce has been playing really well on the circuit and was the impact player of the tournament in Vancouver at the weekend.”
The squad, who play Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and South Africa in the pool stages at the Games, will assemble officially on Monday then roughly a week later will fly out to Hong Kong for the sevens tournament there. Dalziel believes that giving his players a whole tournament to get to know each other could be crucial .
“A lot of teams are going to look at going to the Gold Coast and preparing there. We’re taking this team to Hong Kong as a group – the guys from the pro teams as well.
“We’ll have a full week in Scotland, travel to Hong Kong and have a full week there before playing in the tournament, then go to the Gold Coast – by which time we’ll be in our third week of prep together. I think, when we get there, we’ll be in a really good place as a group.
“The willingness of both pro coaches to make these guys available for Hong Kong has been amazing.”
Excitement and anticipation
In common with the reaction of many supporters when the squad was announced, Dalziel is especially enthusiastic about having Graham and Horne in his group of 13. While sevens relies in large part on structures and systems, individual genius is often decisive in games, and there is no doubt that the Edinburgh back-three player and the Glasgow scrum-half have that spark about them.
“The individual part of sevens is what it’s all about. Young Darcy is a remarkable individual talent – you don’t want to clog him up with two much strategy. He’s doing what he’s probably been doing in the streets of Hawick growing up, and that’s a good thing, at this stage.
“That’s the dynamic he brings, and George is exactly the same. They’re both very confident flair players.Adding George at the end of last season, he had a fantastic impact on the final two tournaments. Individually, he was a real compliment to the bits that were going on.”