by STUART RUTHERFORD
AS we venture into Spring, there is perhaps no date that will have been as vigorously encircled in the calendar’s of traditional rugby supporters than this afternoon’s Melrose Sevens.
Whilst Hong Kong and Dubai, with their sweeping urban landscapes, will accordingly attract their fair share of supporters from around the globe, there is still no tournament that can hold a candle to the tradition and legend that is the home of Sevens rugby.
In the shadow of The EIldon Hills, the sleepy town of Melrose still manages to hit a note with rugby supporters, from every corner of the world, young and old, and this year is no different. With 24 teams in total, including guest sides – Harlequins, GSI 7’s, Co-optimists and Sweden – the 126th incarnation of the tournament should prove to be as spine-tingling as any of the previous season’s exhilarating contests.
With Scottish pro sides, Glasgow and Edinburgh, both absent from this year’s tournament, the fight to take home The Ladies Cup should be as fervent as ever. The two professional outfits have proven too strong for their counterparts, winning the last three tournaments, whilst an amateur side has not had their name engraved on the illustrious trophy since Melrose triumphed in 2011.
Although Borders and invitational sides have won on 19 out the last 20 occasions – with Boroughmuir’s victory in 2002 proving the only exception – could it be the year for a team from the capital to triumph? With both Watsonians and Edinburgh Accies’ reaching last weekend’s Gala sevens final – in which, the Myreside outfit proved too strong, winning 33-28 – there are plenty of reasons for the six Edinburgh-based sides taking part in this year’s tournament to be optimistic.
As Marr and Kelso kick-off the the fun at 11.30am, with high hopes of making it all the way to the final, here are four previous winners who have truly captivated the Greenyards:
The French Barbarians say bon anniversaire
When Melrose celebrated it’s world famous Sevens centenary in 1983, the tournament’s organisers left no stone unturned in their quest to make it a day to remember. With 24 teams taking part (including both the Barbarians and French Barbarians, as well as English side, Richmond) the tournament attracted a crowd of over 16,000 – making it one of the largest sporting gatherings to ever take place in the Borders. As well as this, the competition was attended by Her Royal Highness, Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester – the first ever member of the Royal Family to visit the Melrose Sevens. As the Barbarians went out in first round, following a shock defeat to Royal High School, it was down to the French Barbarians to entertain the expectant Borders crowd, and they duly delivered. Led by the talismanic Serge Blanco, the french outfit ultimately defeated Stewart’s Melville in the final, to take home the 100th Ladies Cup.
Campese and company kick-off the 90’s
When Melrose announced that Australian side – Randwick – had agreed to play in 1990’s tournament, it was, even by Melrose Sevens’ standards, an undoubted coup. Not only were Randwick the first ever Australian side to take part in the tournament, but with a squad containing internationalists David Campese, Mark Ella and John Maxwell, the ‘Galloping Greens’ were not expected to take much time getting acclimatised to Border Sevens rugby. And the Australian outfit did eventually win the tournament, following a comfortable victory over Kelso in the final, but it was their semi-final contest against Melrose that the vast majority of those who were there that day will remember. Although Randwick eventually pipped the hosts 16-15, the battle of Keith Robertson versus Campese was a joy for all to behold. The latter finished the tournament as it’s top points scorer.
Carlin cruises to victory
When Glasgow Warriors arrived at the 123rd Melrose sevens in 2014, they brought with them a man who had, amazingly, only taken up the sport a mere two years previously. It tends to help when you can run 100 metres in 10.13 seconds, however. Carlin Isles – labelled the fastest player in world rugby – left the Greenyards faithful nigh on speechless with his every touch of the ball, as his side cruised to their first ever Melrose sevens triumph. Whilst the American sevens specialist scored a number of memorable tries throughout the afternoon, none was as spectacular as his score against Heriots, in which he ran backwards, before accelerating the length of the pitch.
Melrose end their 13 year wait
Whilst Melrose enjoyed a fruitful end to century, winning back-to-back tournaments in 1997 and 1998, the Greenyards outfit was forced to wait until 2011 before their next home Sevens triumph. On a glorious afternoon, the hosts – led by future Scotland Sevens star, Scott Wight – not only showcased their ability to play a captivating brand of running rugby, but a wherewithal to handle physicality – which was particularly important when they faced off against defending champions Hamilton [from South Africa, not South Lanarkshire] in the final. Following a first-half in which both sides ended up locked at 14-14, Melrose raced into a commanding lead, before Allan Dodds provided a last minute coup-de-grace.