Hall of Fame inductee Eric Paxton recalls great days at Melrose Sevens

He was a key figure as Kelso reached 10 finals and won the Ladies Cup seven times between 1978 and 1989

Kelso's great run at Melrose Sevens began in 1978 when Eric Paxton, pictured front-row centre, was captain.
Kelso's great run at Melrose Sevens began in 1978 when Eric Paxton, pictured front-row centre, was captain.

ERIC PAXTON was a key figure in the Kelso sevens teams which reached 10 Melrose finals out of a possible 12, and won the Ladies Cup on seven occasions, between 1978 and 1989. He turned 66 yesterday [April 4th] and will be inducted into the Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame at the Jackson Distillers Hall of Fame Dinner tomorrow night.

“I heard that I was to be inducted into the Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame a few weeks ago and it was a nice surprise,” said the former back-row, who earned two Scotland XVs caps in 1982 against Ireland and Australia. “As a group of players at the time at Kelso we just loved sevens and once we got the taste for it in 1978 we really didn’t want to lose ties at The Greenyards or anywhere else in fact, we were a stubborn bunch and we didn’t like being on the wrong side of results.

“We always liked to get a couple of good weeks sevens training in each year before the Melrose Sevens came around and, given the quality we had in our seven throughout the period, it was very hard for players to break into the side.


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“At training the starting seven used to often play against 10, 11 or 12 defenders to test us and make us better at finding space and creating chances in sevens ties and it clearly worked.

“I think what set us apart from other teams around that time was our work ethic and the high standards we set ourselves

“Every player knew that they could not drop below those standards and we held each other accountable. Often on sevens weekends we would be playing all Saturday and all Sunday and then heading back to work on the Monday while after our many wins at Melrose we would enjoy the hospitality, but whenever the next tournament or tie came around we were always focused and ready to go.

“Teams wanted to beat us – and we didn’t like getting beat!”

Before 1978, Kelso had been runners-up at Melrose six times – in 1921, 1928, 1932, 1934, 1948 and 1967 – but had never got their hands on the trophy.

So, when the Kelso team of Jim Hewit, Gary Callander, Paxton, Bob Hogarth, Andrew Ker, Euan Common and Roger Baird defeated Stewart’s Melville 22-4 in that year’s final, it was a massive moment for the club.

“Fitness played a big part, we were very fit, while we all knew our roles in the team and we had some experience mixed in with youth, with young players like Bob, Euan and Roger breaking through at that time,” Paxton explained, who points out that there was no replacement allowed during sevens ties in those days.

“Over the next few years others came into the side like Marshall Wright, John Jeffrey and Clive Millar, but we always had a strong nucleus to the side and that helped us back up good results with other good results.

“As a player I tended to make some hard yards for a team, but also could show a bit of pace when required, especially straight off kick offs when we liked to pressure teams.

“Jim [Hewit] was a good player, Gary [Callander] was strong and used to steal a few balls in the scrum, Bob [Hogarth] and Andrew [Ker] were real playmakers with great vision and Roger really was quick.”

In the 1979 final, Stewart’s Melville got their revenge on Kelso before Paxton and co saw off the hosts in the 1980 final 28-12.

Back-to-back final defeats then came in 1981 and 1982 to Gala and Heriot’s before eventual winners the French Barbarians and Stewart’s Melville contested the 1983 final.

“Losing those finals in 1981 and 1982 and then not making the final in 1983 frustrated us, we were annoyed,” Paxton said. “We were really focused for the next few years and it was great to get back into winning ways at Melrose [beating Stewart’s Melville 46-10 in the 1984 final].

“Two more wins followed off the back of that one [getting the better of Heriot’s 40-12 in the 1985 final and edging out the Racing Club de France 22-16 in 1986] and we were playing some good stuff at that time, the bond amongst the players and the trust we had in each other was getting us through.”

 

Harlequins beat Melrose in the 1987 final before two Kelso triumphs in a row in 1988 and 1989. In the second of those finals, Kelso beat Ayr 28-22 in a cracking contest, but it is the year before which gave Paxton his greatest memory of those times.

“We beat Jed-Forest in extra-time in the final,” Paxton, who is currently Kelso vice-president, recounted about 1988. “Jed had beaten us in the Border League [XVs] play-off on the Tuesday night and then we were squaring up against them again on the Saturday.

“The scores were tied [10-10], so it was onto extra-time and first points scored to win. I managed to score from a lineout to clinch it and that was a really sweet moment because we had to battle hard against our local rivals.”

The Kelso team Paxton was so proud to be part of also played in two Middlesex Sevens over the years while he himself played in 10 Hong Kong Sevens tournaments, turning out for the likes of the Co-Optimists, the Public School Wanderers and the Scottish Border Club.

Sadly, Gary Callander passed away in late 2021 while Clive Millar passed away late last year. They will always be remembered by Paxton and the others they played alongside.

And Paxton is planning to carry out a fund aising walk in the summer for The Margaret Kerr unit at the Borders General Hospital and St Columba’s Hospice to raise funds in memory of Clive, Gavin Hagart of Watsonians and others whose lives have been lost to cancer of late.

He and others will be walking 52 miles between Watsonians’ Myreside ground and Poynder Park in Kelso on June 17 and 18.

“It’ll be a challenge, but one that I am looking forward to and we want to raise as much money and awareness as we can,” Paxton, who is an agricultural engineer, said.

Anyone interested in joining in with the walk to email Eris via epaxtonagri@talktalk.net.

  • To buy tickets for the Jackson Distillers Hall of Fame Dinner click HERE.

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About Gary Heatly 463 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.

6 Comments

  1. Paxton was only capped twice?? That’s genuinely shocked me. I would have thought he had way more. That Kelsi side had some players in it. Good to see someone who actually played at Melrose 7s being inducted and this rather illustrates what the organisers should be arriving to return to. It wasn’t just the highlight of my youth watching it live on BBC but my son too and part of the reason he picked up a ball in the first place. Glasgows last game had a shocking number of empty seats for an in form team that plays in a small stadium which can only be down to so much rugby being behind a paywall. Accessible formats with recognisable teams free to air will inspire far more folk….still only TWO caps?? Beggars belief!

    • Exactly my thought regarding a couple of caps, the next thought I had was it a typo or was there another Scotland cap with the same name, as you say very strange.

  2. Fair enjoyed that piece, thanks Gary/Eric. Brought back many great pre-teen memories, travelling down from Edinburgh with my grandad. They weren’t my team Stew-Mel, but they had some titanic tussles with ‘Kelsey’ back in the day; Morgan v Hogarth, Forsyth v Common, Blackwood v Baird etc,. A certain Eric Paxton was a primary reason the Borderers usually came out on top.

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