Gala insist that there is “nothing sinister” about Sevens draw

Watsonians issued a statement on Sunday night expressing deep disappointment at not being invited to Netherdale tournament

Edinburgh Accies
The Edinburgh Accies squad celebrate their victory at the Gala Sevens in 2019. Image: Graham Gaw

GALA RFC have insisted that their decision to not invite Watsonians and Edinburgh Accies to their annual Sevens tournament on Saturday, which is the keystone event in the club’s Maroon’d@Gala Festival, was not  a direct snub to either of those clubs.

Watsonians issued a statement addressing the matter yesterday [Sunday] afternoon. It said:

“We are hugely disappointed not to be invited to compete in the Gala Sevens on Saturday for the first time in its history.

“We are proud not to have missed a ‘Kings of the 7s’ event since its inception – as a club we invest a lot of time, resource and budget into supporting the Borders Sevens circuit and will continue to do so.

“Naturally, we would hope that not having the opportunity to compete at Gala on Saturday has no bearing on our chances of competing fairly for the ‘Kings of the 7s’ title this season.

“We’ll be seeking clarification from The Border League regarding how the decision impacts the ‘Kings of the 7s’ tournament’.”

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A later statement from Edinburgh Accies echoed Watsonians’ sentiment. It said:

“The club is extremely disappointed to share the news that we (alongside Watsonians) have not been invited to the year’s Gala Sevens due to a change in the tournament format.

“Accies last won the tournament in 2019, defeating Watsonians in the final, in a reverse of the 2017 final. In a social media post, Gala RFC stated that the change was caused by late withdrawals from other teams in previous years,

“The result is that we will only be competing in nine of this season’s ‘Kings of the 7s’ [tournaments], despite our consistent support of the competition since its inception. We hope, of course, that this will not affect our ability to challenge for honour as we have done in recent years.”

The Border League will meet later this week but it is not clear whether this matter will be on the agenda.

However, Gala are unhappy with the way this issue was presented by Watsonians. Speaking before the Accies statement was issued, the Gala director of rugby, Ewan Swinton, acknowledged that mistakes were made on the communication side with Watsonians and Accies only finding out that they were not invited when the tournament draw was made on a live stream last Wednesday night, but stressed that the decision to exclude the two clubs was made with the best of intentions to ensure that the tournament runs smoothly.

“There is nothing sinister about this at all,” he said. “We should have phoned or emailed somebody at Accies and Watsonians to let them know exactly what the story was and we didn’t do that, so that’s our error and something we’ll learn from.

“We understand that they are both disappointed in the context of the ‘Kings of the 7s’, and we recognise their long and appreciated history of participating on the Borders circuit. We respect that massively and I think we’ll take this as a bit of a learning exercise to be more conscious of other clubs’ position when we make decisions going forward.

“We’re disappointed that the Watsonians statement does not provide a full explanation of the reasons behind our decision to their membership or acknowledge the conversations that took place after the initial failure in communication,” he added.

A statement issued by Gala last night said: “Gala Rugby has chosen to run an eight team senior tournament this year due to previous years issues caused by late withdrawals of teams in a twelve team format.

“We have prioritised Borders team’s involvement and have included two Scots Army as they have supported the tournament in the past where teams have withdrawn in the final week. It is unfortunate that there are teams that will not be participating this year, especially some who have also been very loyal to both Gala Rugby and the wider K7s circuit, but ultimately when you are organising a community rugby event with over 60 rugby teams playing from P4 up to senior rugby, the organising committee need to secure certainty to ensure the smooth running of the event.

“We are sure everyone will have a great day nonetheless and can’t wait to welcome you all to Netherdale!”

In the last six Gala tournaments, Watsonians have won the title twice in 2016 and 2017 (when they beat Accies in the final), while Accies were champions in 2019 (beating Watsonians in the final).

Watsonians were ‘Kings of the 7s’ series champions three years on the bounce between 2017 and 2019. Edinburgh Accies finished third behind Melrose and Gala in last year’s series with Watsonians finishing fourth.

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Swinton also rejected the suggestion that this incident is the latest step in a concerted push by Border clubs to distance themselves from the central belt as they tackle the nationwide issue of falling player numbers.

“It’s not my place to comment on that but all I would say is that the conversations amongst Border clubs about the many challenges we all face have been very positive and forward thinking,” he said. “It’s not about cutting ourselves off from anyone else. We’ve all got a lot of great relationships with clubs in Edinburgh and beyond, and long may that continue.”

It was announced in June that the seven Border League clubs – Hawick, Selkirk, Jed-Forest, Kelso, Gala, Melrose and Peebles – had withdrawn their 2nd XVs from the national reserve league structure so as to compete against each other in a reprised Border Junior League next season.

“The primary driver for reintroducing the league is to reduce the number of unfulfilled games which unfortunately was a regular occurrence in the previous National League arrangements,” said a statement issued by the Border Junior League at the time.

“The Border Junior League will significantly reduce the distance teams need to travel for games and, with all teams having floodlights, increase their ability to mutually agree to play games midweek. All participating clubs are hoping that these new arrangements will assist in both sustaining player retention and developing player recruitment.”

Meanwhile, it is understood that six of the seven Border League clubs have written to the SRU to inform them that they do not wish to compete in the Scottish Cup next season so that they can focus instead on a re-invigorated Border League. Reigning Premiership and Cup champions Hawick are the odd team out after their players indicated that they wanted the opportunity to defend their title.

The key drivers behind the move away from the Cup is a desire for guaranteed meaningful games from February onwards (after the league season starts to wind down), with local derbies likely to attract more interest and better gate/bar receipts than sporadic cup or friendly matches. One Border club official pointed out that the cup no longer has a sponsor so clubs must rely on 50 percent of gate profits to cover the expense of away matches, meaning that a good cup run can end up costing clubs money.

The appeal of the Cup has wained significantly across Scotland in recent years, with several games forfeited last season by clubs who were either unable or unwilling to raise teams for matches, including Watsonians pulling out of their second round trip to Marr due to insufficient front-row players and GHK choosing not to travel to Mansfield Park to face Hawick at the quarter-final stage.

All of this feeds into a wider concern that a cohesive over-arching strategy for the domestic game across Scotland from Super Series downwards (taking in season structure, player development pathways and many other key issues) needs to be developed and properly communicated as a matter of extreme urgency.

Scottish club rugby’s 15-aside season returns on 2nd September with Watsonians hosting Gala in week one of the National One campaign. It will be an interesting afternoon at Myreside.

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About David Barnes 3816 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. This is where it all gets a bit silly because after all the commotion around the decision from Gala to leave out Accies and Watsons. Hawick now decide to send a 2nd XV Seven at best to Gala, preferring instead to prioritise a 15XV friendly with Tynedale. The Borders clubs need to take a long hard look at themselves because their actions are really poor not only to the Edinburgh clubs but to their fellow Border clubs…
    Makes a complete mockery of any prestige associated with the Kings of the 7’s. I see no value in this competition as long as clubs shoot themselves and others in the foot like this.

  2. Top clubs pulling out of a National Competition isnt good. Melrose have a strong record in that competition, at one point in time something like 9 finals in 11 or 12 years. However the competition has declined due to lack of support by the Union and the clubs themselves. Clubs scheduling a cup semi on Melrose Sevens day isnt bright either, Melrose have a historic obligation to keep their tournament going as they see fit and certainly have to commit to it themselves
    Melrose have never failed to turn up at a sevens event, even when in cup finals or play off finals.
    Rugby outside the city is in general terms a problem numbers wise, its a very broad issue but becoming insular doesnt work for me

  3. One does sympathise and understand the decision regarding the 2nd XV teams, however it is being painted in a rather one-sided light. Borders reserve teams are as reticent to travel away, perhaps even more so than clubs closer to the capital. However, given that most of the borders teams are operating with a smaller player pool than those in the capital, if this decision gets a greater turnout for 2nd XV games then more power to them.

    The Gala 7s debacle clearly demonstrates the underlying sentiment that has been brewing for some time that the Kings of the 7s is a tournament for borders teams. To infer anything else is nonsense. It Is shameful not to afford the respect of informing two teams who have not only consistently attended that tournament, but have also won and made the final in several recent years. The situation itself is regrettable, teams should not be pulling out late to tournaments, but its handling and the disrespect it highlights does not garner sympathy for Gala.

    The vote to withdraw from the Scottish Cup is frankly pathetic and no more than teams who aren’t doing as well as they want throwing their toys out the pram. Unsurprisingly, given their success, Hawick are the one team who voted against the move. The likes of Gala and Melrose have clearly taken a look at their history and, instead of climbing the ranks again like Kelso, have instead decided to take their ball and go home. Either of those teams would be able to compete in the Premiership and the Scottish Cup, but there is a lack of patience which is lamentable. Look at Ayr making it to the semi finals last year. When borders teams ruled the amateur game a decade ago, there wasn’t talk of promoting the Borders league to their premier cup competition as far as I’m aware. Melrose and Gala were happy being at the top of the tree, and now that they’re not they’ve decided to walk away.

    Are the borders teams maybe forgetting that they occupy 4 of the Premiership spots and 2 of the top 4 National 1 spots? With a good season or 2, some shrewd player development and maybe a modicum of patience and we could see Hawick not sitting alone at the top. This withdrawal is a sign of them giving up as far as I’m concerned. They’re not a marginalised community, but if they carry on like this they may as well leave the Premiership too. Then they can go off and bicker with each other instead.

    • You will see that travel has nothing to do with it with the amount of unfulfilled fixtures in the 2XV Border League this year. With Jed, Peebles and Selkirk really struggling with player numbers. Is this not the same as you say, Jed, Gala, Selkirk “giving up” on getting to the East Reserve League 1?

      As for the cup it has lost its specialness, teams pulling out in QF stage, no top flight, prestigious teams travelling to lower league teams. Border derbies make for bigger crowds and the chance for Nat1/Nat 2 clubs to play against premiership clubs.

      • I was on a Reserve league meeting before the Summer and essentially the Borders clubs want to have their own league so they can play 2nd XV games on different days from a Saturday. The reasoning was “so guys n the bench for the ones can get game time”, which to me reads as “we don’t have enough players to put out two teams without the bench from the ones playing twice in a week”.

  4. As for the Border 2XV league. The clubs in the top division, Melrose, Hawick and Kelso should not have dropped to the Border League. Realistically it will only be those 3 teams that can field 2XV sides so will now get 2 home and away games each season. What was the issue with the other clubs not just getting promoted to the top league? I doubt travel has much to do with it given it is an East of Scotland league

    • The borders clubs were already in East Leagues. The reserve leagues were primarily split East and West, with the borders teams allocated to the East. An unwillingness to travel has everything to do with it.

  5. Hosts of the Borders 7s tournaments are free to invite whoever they wish. Tough for Watsonians and Accies as they have supported the tournaments. Perhaps the artificial
    King of the Sevens construct has to go . Unfair to pick on Gala alone when other Borders teams ie Jedforest and Melrose either do not compete at Sevens competition or host a Sevens event that has betrayed the local roots of the sport.
    The withdrawal from national 2nd XV competition in favour of sides competing in a regional Junior league makes sense in terms of engendering local rivalries and avoiding long expensive travel.
    Borders self interest clearly trumps a SRU national competition in respect of opting out of the national Cup, for which the governing body has failed to obtain sponsorship.
    All the above are signs of the neglect of the community game bt the SRU, with clubs feeling they have to take steps to protect their status. Over to you SRU.

    • I would agree if they weren’t all competing for the Kings of the 7s. The Borders 7s circuit is suffering and almost every club has the issue of sides withdrawing at the last minute but Accies and Watsonians have been strong supporters for many years and almost always send down strong sides. The risk is now that they turn their back on the Borders 7s and it suffers even more.

      Hopefully now with 10 team leagues, the 15s season is finished early enough to allow all clubs to focus on 7s through April & May.

  6. Come on Gala. No independent person can read this as anything but a snub to Watsonians and Accies.

    • Jed are the ones who pulled out of 7s tournaments at last minute .
      They should be the ones that suffer the consequences not Watsonians & Accies .
      Both clubs have supported Borders 7 s faithfully for decades without fail
      Very poor by Pailmerks .whoever made this decision is way off the mark
      There might be repercussions from this I would think

  7. Bill Noble left Gala last year and slowly but surely we start to see the the reemergence of poor leadership qualities that Gala had in place prior to his arrival. The Senior committee at Gala has always been littered with individuals who don’t have the required nous to operate well.
    Bill Noble was responsible for creating a better environment at Gala and doing away with some of the poor decision making and infighting that plagued the club. Looks like his influence is being missed already , there is no way that decision is taken if he is still in post.

  8. I can’t work it out – so are Watsonians and Accies guilty of pulling out of the Gala tournament at short notice ? If so then I get it – that is justifiable punishment for the cardinal sin which no organiser readily forgives (nor should they). If not then it’s clearly an act of aggression aimed at both of theses clubs and comes across as petulant jealousy of the bigger posh City slicker clubs.

  9. Sinister , possibly not but incredibly stupid certainly. For Gala then to apparently take exception against Watsonians for expressing their displeasure only after being informed after the deed was done simply confirms the lack of common sense on display from Gala.
    Watsonians and Accies have every right to voice their disappointment over this decision particularly when , unlike some of the teams actually invited , they have supported the Gala Sevens in the recent past.
    Jed are the obvious anomaly here in that they withdrew from both Gala and Hawick events last year despite being the reigning Kings of the 7’s so why were they not one of the teams to drop out ?
    Jed only seemed able to play in 7’s tournaments if the Young brothers were available otherwise they didn’t bother.
    Hawick sent a 7 last year but it had 2 fifty year old committee men in it.
    The issue with the Kings event is that there is far too much variation week to week in the squad quality that teams send and as such from a quality perspective it is nowhere near where it used to be.
    Too many one sided ties make the circuit much less of a spectacle as well. If you just want an opportunity to go and get blootered with some rugby on in the background then that is pretty much what the Kings circuit is now…
    The old 2XV merry go round is at it again with Borders clubs pulling out of the national leagues…. again , how many times have we been through this ? Again this is probably the easy option but given the lack of players across all of these clubs I remain unconvinced that reintroducing the Border Junior League will encourage participation levels particularly in the longer term.
    A distinct lack of ambition on show from Hawick , Melrose and Jed – the clubs that were already in the first division of the 2XV league where the standard was relatively good and fixtures more often than not fulfilled by their opponents ( apart from Jed who cancelled a significant number of theirs).
    It is little wonder the SRU marginalise the Borders clubs when we see decisions like these.

    • You make a lot of valid points but I’m fairly sure Jed and Melrose were not in the upper echelons of the 2nd XV system last season.

  10. How could Watsonians have issued a meaningful statement if they weren’t told the reasons! If I’m correct was it not Jed who withdrew from some recent tournaments without much notice.
    Totally agree with 2nd xv being localised, I applaud that decision. Not taking part in the Scottish cup beggars belief.

    • And this why the borders is becoming embarrassing and a laughing stock and I am from gala
      No wonder Scottish rugby don’t want to invest in an area that is only interested in there own little club

      Self interest and tribalism at its best

      Shocking lack of respect

      • Think this could be the the final acts that drop borders rugby into the backwaters of scottish rugby .infighting ,jelousy has broke most of the decent hardworking stalwords of most clubs in the borders some of the things happening at some clubs are unbeleivable .any young players with ambition are told to go to city clubs if you want a chance to do something not by sru coaches but by people in their own club .it,so sad for the the once proud south heart of rugby in scotland .only team left with ambition to do something is Hawick and that,s player lead to play in the cup and get to play at Murryfield in the cup final

  11. Sad to see the Borders clubs dragging everyone else in Scottish Rugby down with them as usual.

  12. Ah yes, Myresiders – so it really is all about taking part, and not just about winning (aka collecting lucrative K7’s points)?

    Frankly, on this occasion, Gala’s reasons appear perfectly credible and justifiable from a Borders rugby standpoint. Especially considering Melrose’s shabby relegation of their long-standing supportive BL colleagues to a preliminary qualifying round, in favour of a bunch of weirdly-named invitational pot-hunting nonentities (in the true sense of that word!).

    • As a borderer, I find this very poor from Gala, both Accies and Watsonians have been huge supporters of the Kings for a number of years, making the journey from Edinburgh to every tournament, often twice a weekend. There are times when the borders need to stick together but this is very blinkered thinking.

  13. Gala have shot themselves in the foot big time. There is no way this can count towards Kings of the 7s and if it doesn’t then the 8 current teams will either field weaker sides or not field a side at all to focus on 15s games.

  14. An extremely sad day for Scottish rugby. As much as gala try and make excuses there it’s clear to see the malice and intent behind this decision. The DoR’s comments are laughable and quite clearly not in touch with reality. Extremely disappointed in Galas behaviour. Their naive to think this won’t reflect negatively on them for a long period of time.

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of borders folk commenting below and arguing with me but deep down you know this is a deliberate petty act.

    • It isn’t necessarily a “deliberate petty act” just because you say so. Can you provide any evidence to back up your view?

      • Maybe you could explain why it isn’t as I can’t see anywhere as to what justifies the action? It would seem fair to remove Gala from the King of 7s circuit and they can then run their own selective event without criticism and without responsibility to the wider rugby community which would appear to be what they want.

      • No I can’t produce any evidence to say it is or it isn’t a deliberate petty act. I simply don’t know. If there were minutes of the meeting where the decision was made or something similar then we would know.

        My point is that something isn’t necessarily true just because someone says so. So again I ask to see Drew’s evidence or for him to concede it is just his opinion.

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