IT is a fair old leap to go from coaching the Scotland Under-20 team to their highest ever Junior World Cup placing of fifth in Georgia this summer, to leading that national men’s Sevens squad through a full world series campaign, into a Commonwealth Games in April and a World Cup in July. Fortunately, John Dalziel has a fair bit of pedigree in the abbreviated game – having twice triumphed at the world’s oldest tournament.
The first of those Melrose successes was in 1999, when he was a 21-year-old in the Gala team which won the Division Two championship, the Scottish Cup and the Ladies Cup all in one season.
“Chris Paterson and Nathan Hines were playing as well,” he recalls. “It was a good season for us all round that one with a special and unexpected end. We had the Tennents team-of-the-year awards the night before, hosted by Dougie Donnelly, and I’m sure some of the older guys were on the whisky. We showed up at Melrose the next day to just have a bit of fun, we were in the preliminary round at about 11am and ended up winning the five ties. It’s something that lives long in the memory. I won again 12 years later with Melrose in 2011.”
Given that a few minutes can seem like an awful long time when you are blowing out your backside in a sevens tie, the six years since that second Melrose triumph for Dalziel must feel like a lifetime – so it has also helped that he was able to spend a fair bit of time being brought up to speed with how the sport has changed in recent seasons before taking up the reins during the summer.
“It was good that Calum MacRae [his predecessor as Sevens coach and now Edinburgh defence coach] is a former team-mate and a really good friend because it meant I was able to integrate in during the Paris and Twickenham legs last year,” explained Dalziel.
“Also, having guys like Scott Riddell, Nick McLennan and James Fleming in the squad brings a lot of experience, so it’s about looking to use that. They’ve been through a lot of ups and downs over the years so they know what works and what doesn’t. They are vital to the development of the programme so that when new young players coming in like a Robbie Fergusson or George Horne they get that support in making the transition from 15s.”
Scotland’s core squad for 2017-18 was confirmed yesterday, with Josh Pecqueur and Nyle Godsmark of Melrose, and Harvey Elms of Currie, being handed part-time deals.
Dougie Fife, James Johnstone and Jamie Farndale – who were all part of the core squad last year but have been training with Edinburgh in recent weeks – will remain part of the sevens set-up for the time being.
Fife actually started for Edinburgh in their opening weekend win against Cardiff Blues, when he picked up an injury which has kept him out in recent weeks. Dalziel expressed his surprise that the 27-year-old was deemed surplus to requirements at the pro team when he was released in the summer of 2016.
“Dougie is a fantastic professional, I don’t know why he’s not there already,” said the coach, when asked about the possibility that the winger could make a more permanent swap back to fifteens. “It’s great that he gets another look at it and if Richard wants to sign him that will create another opportunity for someone to come into our programme, and the conveyor belt keeps churning on.”
“They all have aspirations to play for Scotland at 15s and to play for Glasgow and Edinburgh. The programme is here to give them the best chance to get towards that. These are young guys with their careers all ahead of them. There will be a review in two weeks as our priorities start to kick in but with such a long lead-in it’s really good we can lend players in to Edinburgh. I’ll certainly be going cap in hand throughout the season to Edinburgh and Glasgow looking for players to come the other way, so if we can do a bit just now then hopefully that builds a relationship.”
The first World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series tournament is not until the start of December in Dubai, but the team will get a hit-out in South Africa from 24th to 31st October, when they take part in a week long rugby festival at Stellenbosch University.
“It is an eight team international competition played over the course of the week. England and South Africa are also there. It will be a chance to try a few things and look at the new players, with plenty of time to recover and work on things between matches. We think it will be a great way to transition into the World Series,” said Dalziel.
“With the Commonwealth Games and World Cup coming up, it’s a fantastic year ahead for these boys. There is optimism with the way things ended last year but the players are driven to not be the team that wins the last tournament of the year every year, they want to be competitive throughout.”
Scotland 7s core squad to compete on the 2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series (World Series tournaments in brackets) –
Hugh Blake (16)
Jack Cuthbert (3)
Harvey Elms (0)*
Jamie Farndale (21)
Robbie Fergusson (0)
Dougie Fife (16)
James Fleming (43)
Nyle Godsmark (12)*
James Johnstone (40)
Gavin Lowe (16)
Nick McLennan (12)
Jo Nayacavou (27)
Sam Pecqueur (0)*
Scott Riddell (57) CAPTAIN
* Denotes a player on a part-time training contract