Win or bust in Monaco as Great Britain Sevens men hunt Olympic qualification

Ciaran Beattie is one of a number of Scots involved in final push to make it to Paris 2024

Ciaran Beattie has been unveiled as GB7s programme lead for the 2022-23 HSBC World Series. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ciaran Beattie has been unveiled as GB7s programme lead for the 2022-23 HSBC World Series. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE brow of a quiet-spoken Borderer will undoubtedly be furrowed this weekend as he oversees the Great Britain Sevens men’s team’s attempt to claim the last qualification spot for the Paris Olympics at a high stakes repechage tournament in Monaco.

Ciaran Beattie has already achieved the first part of the challenge presented to him less than two years ago by coaching the GB women’s team to the 2024 Olympic Games, which kick off next month. But as well as being head coach of that squad, while Englishman Tony Roques is men’s head coach, Beattie is also head of the entire GB 7s programme for men and women.

So, before we get to this weekend’s crunch final qualifier in Monaco, let’s roll back to a couple of weeks before the Commonwealth Games nearly two years ago when the 38-year-old stepped swiftly from Scotland Sevens coach to the new GB role. How did that happen?


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“It all came about very quickly, to be honest,” explained Beattie. “I’d been with the Scotland programme for quite a few years, having been fortunate to play for Scotland and then coach the national team for two years. But what an honour.

“I think what it means to someone like me, who grew up in the Borders, any involvement in sevens is huge – it’s a privilege – because this is ‘our’ game; Scotland’s, the Borders’. It’s where it started, so be given the honour of continuing to develop sevens on the world stage was just incredible.

“But, yes, it came as a shock at that moment in 2022. We were preparing as Scotland for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and we were doing some great things in making Scotland competitive with not much resource; punching well above our weight, and hoping to get among the medals.

“And then, ten days before the tournament, we get told:This is happening, we’re merging the home nations and you’re now going to be playing together as GB in the World Series, and by the way you’re going to be in charge’.

“The thinking was that GB could and should be competing for medals at the Olympics, having won silver at Rio in 2016 when the sport returned to the Games for the first time since 1924 and then finished out of the medals in Tokyo. And the best way to achieve that was to prepare properly as a GB squad, in men’s and women’s rugby, in advance of the Games.

“We will still play as Scotland, England and Wales – Ireland have their own sevens set-up – in the Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup, but the unions agreed to throw their lot in together as GB for the rest of the time and I think it provided an answer to the financial difficulties many had.

“So, we competed as individual nations in Birmingham [Scotland men and women both finished sixth], and immediately afterwards I’ve got a blank piece of paper and I’m drawing up what a GB 7s programme would look like, with zero foundations.

“There was a lot of learning in that first year, for all of us, but we’re into the second full year now and it’s been coming together, and in fact we’re already looking beyond the Paris Olympics at a new four-year cycle, and how we spread the net wider. It’s been intense but hugely exciting.”

 

 

Controversy has long followed the progression of sevens in its homeland. Despite its origins in Melrose and hosting of the first ever Sevens World Cup at Murrayfield in 1993, the pressures of pro rugby mean that the SRU has struggled to find a place for it, both in the calendar and in budget planning.

Rumours of the sevens programme being scrapped in 2015 were met with outcries – ‘in the country that invented the game?’ – and so the SRU maintained just enough funding to quell critics but nothing like that required to compete at the top level. But, while some had to fit jobs and studies around training and playing, Scotland did manage to hold their own and claim a few notable scalps along the way. It was a rollercoaster ride but the Scots claimed famous wins over New Zealand, Fiji, South Africa and England in high points that culminated in winning the 2017 London Sevens title, with youngster George Horne one of the star performers at Twickenham.

We won’t rehash now the history of the SRU scrapping well-developed plans to host a leg of the IRB Sevens Series at Melrose, and instead play at Scotstoun and a tomb-like Murrayfield – that is a story of its own – but despite World Sevens chiefs being left frustrated by the SRU’s approach, Scotland’s performances were noticed, with Beattie, Scott Riddell and Sean Lamont all currently occupying leading roles in the GB 7s set-up. It’s worth adding that another proud Scot, Clark Laidlaw of Jedburgh, also became the leading sevens coach with New Zealand through that period, having emigrated there to coach, and is now the Hurricanes 15s coach.

The blue Scotland line runs thick through the GB sevens flag. Scots Mark Bennett and Mark Robertson were stars of the first GB Olympic team which won silver in Rio, Robbie Fergusson, Ross McCann, Max McFarland and Alex Coombes were in the men’s team for Tokyo, while Lisa Thomson and Hannah Smith were in the women’s squad which finished fourth in 2016.

The women qualified last summer for Paris 2024, with Thomson again selected in the GB squad announced this week. Rhona Lloyd and up-and-coming star Shona Campbell, a 23-year-old from Montrose, were very unlucky not to make the cut.

 

 

Fergusson now captains the GB men’s team, and at 30 this is set to be his last Olympics – if they win in Monaco and get there – but Beattie reckons he is in the form of his life, that blend of skills and nous vital in top-class sevens reaching a nice maturity. McCann will also sign off from sevens this summer after signing a two-year contract with Edinburgh, and Scotland are also represented by McFarland, the Ireland-born speedster, and Kaleem Barreto.

And overseeing things with Beattie is former Scotland sevens skipperRiddell as assistant coach and Scotland 15s centurionLamont as Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach.

The South African ‘Blitzboks’, Tonga and Canada are among those also vying for the last Games spot in this weekend’s repechage in Monaco.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” Beattie admits. “Ironically, having secured our place, the women’s team dropped off a bit in recent tournaments, and so I’m hoping they’re going to peak perfectly in Paris. The men, however, have actually been building well through the tournaments and are in pretty good shape for Monaco.”

 

 

I am intrigued as to how Beattie handles the politics of bringing three proud rugby nations, and their best performers together?

“That’s something we have talked about a lot actually,” he says. “From when I started the programme we were clear that nobody was coming in here as a token gesture. There would be no quota systems for Scotland, England and Wales – everybody has to be here on merit, or it doesn’t work as a competitive, performance environment. We need the best people there.

“However, within the squad, it’s also important to acknowledge that we are different proud nations. I am a proud Scotsman, we have proud Welsh men and women, and just as proud English women and men, and so while we have the GB flag up in the changing rooms we also have Scottish, Welsh and English flags. I get a bit of a lift from seeing the Welsh flag there, for example, and realising we’re working with the best people from each nation, and of course I get a lift every time I see the Scottish flag.

“Other people might do it differently, but from my point of view I wanted us to acknowledge our roots, and who we are representing. I’m from Selkirk and Lisa’s from Hawick, 12 miles down the road, and we are both proud to represent those towns, as well as Scotland and GB – it doesn’t matter the colour of jersey we’re wrapped in. And so we try to use all of that pride and passion from our roots across the three countries to come together collectively as one team and achieve great things.”

As for the future of sevens, Beattie believes that the GB set-up has strengthened the game’s place in UK and world rugby, and is here to stay.

“I wouldn’t say going down the GB route saved sevens in Scotland and the UK, but it certainly strengthened where we were and gave us a new stronger focus,” he argues.

“Things have changed and the tournaments themselves are huge eye-openers and routes into the sport for many people around the world. You’re playing six games over a weekend, and can engage with fans up close, and you do it eight times over the year in a World Series. We realise how fortunate we are to be able to do this, it’s incredible to travel to amazing places, but it is also about spreading the game and engaging people to rugby.

“World Rugby see sevens as important especially for developing nations and giving them a foothold into the game, so they are buying into it, and that’s why they were clear with us that they’re not trying to take Scotland, England and Wales away, they’re wanting us to help them develop and grow the game, both in sevens but also the global sport of rugby.

“I think back to when I played, you had a week’s training and could hop on the plane and play sevens. Ten years before me they didn’t even have that – you’d meet in the bar, have a few drinks and then go and play for fun. But now it’s professional and the transition takes longer.

“There’s still a place to double up, but look at Antoine Dupont – the world’s best player couldn’t just drop into the French squad. He wouldn’t have got in. He needed to play and be in that environment and so he had to miss the Six Nations, and that tells its own story. Absolutely there is a crossover but the time needed to drop in now is much longer, because players are more specialised – a sevens player could transfer more easily to 15s than the other way now.

“But it’s an exciting time to be involved in sevens and I think it will go up a notch again at the Olympics,” he concludes.

“And make no mistake, when the men and women step on to that stage in GB shirts – hopefully both in Paris next month – they are still representing their countries, their towns, their clubs and families, and we will represent Scotland to the best of our ability.”

 

The lowdown on Great Britain Sevens men’s Olympic qualification repechage tournament in Monaco this weekend –

  • Squad: Kaleem Barreto, Ross McCann, Harry Glover, Morgan Williams, Robbie Fergusson (capt), Ethan Waddleton, Will Homer, Max McFarland, Jamie Barden, Charlton Kerr, Tom Emery, Alex Davis.
  • Repechage pools:
    • Pool A: South Africa, Chile, Tonga, Mexico
    • Pool B: Great Britain, Canada, Uganda, China
    • Pool C: Spain, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Brazil
  • Great Britain’s pool fixtures:
    • China on Friday 21st June at 2:28am BST
    • Uganda on Saturday at  11:28am BST
    • Canada on Saturday at 16:32pm BST
  • The top two from each pool and the two best third-placed teams will go through to the quarter-finals on Sunday, which be seeded based on combined pool standings, meaning GB will want to maximise their points scored in every pool match to avoid South Africa in an early knockout round.

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About David Ferguson 26 Articles
David Ferguson has covered Scottish rugby for over 30 years. Starting out in the Borders with the Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter, where he was sports editor and also covered rugby for a wide variety of national newspapers, Radio Borders and BBC Scotland, David became editor of Scottish Rugby Magazine, working with then Managing Director Sean Lineen. David was then Chief Rugby Writer with The Scotsman for 14 years, during which time he covered club, professional and international rugby, including several Rugby World Cups and Lions tours. He started his own communications and media business in 2014, and has worked across a wide range of areas from Scottish and UK government to charities and corporate business, most recently as Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, Scotland's only research think tank on sport.

3 Comments

  1. All about money and nothing about the meaningful development of so many young players. Very sad.

    • Anyone wanting to watch (via RugbyPassTV Web site or app) should exercise caution with the match timings. Times listed in the article are indeed as currently listed on Wotld Rugby Fixtures page, but are about 30 mins earlier than were published by the WR originally.
      Their updated times also show some concurrently timed matches, when to my knowledge there is only one pitch!

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