Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame: “It was lively, it was ruthless, it was relentless” – Carl Hogg

Former Scotland back-rower was in the winning squad three times at the Greenyards

Hall of Fame inductee Carl Hogg won three Melrose Sevens medals during his playing career. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Hall of Fame inductee Carl Hogg won three Melrose Sevens medals during his playing career. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

CARL HOGG is on the car phone as he travels from his home in Cheltenham to Warwick, where he is about to watch an under-18s rugby festival in his capacity as Director of Academy and Development for Gloucester.

But it only takes a gentle prod to send him back to where it all began: as a kid watching giants of the game bestride the famous Greenyards turf in the heart of the Scottish Borders, perhaps not fully appreciating at that stage just how close he was to touching greatness.

“I remember going to Melrose Sevens from four or five years old,” he recounts. “I was at school next door – at St Mary’s – so I was literally over the fence from the club, and my dad was always involved as a past captain and past president. So, I grew up at Melrose rugby club – watching the games and kicking the rugby ball about on the pitch afterwards as it got dark.


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“There used to be those little terraced seats along the touchline for the kids and we used to get to watch people like Gordon Smith, Colin Ruthven and Keith Robertson play Sevens for our club, which was phenomenal – so inspiring – and as a youngster you never thought you would be good enough to pull on the Melrose jersey, let alone play out there on the Greenyards pitch.

“It was such a big event for the town and the club. Looking back now you appreciate how fortunate you were to be growing up near that environment, but I genuinely didn’t think at that age I would get close to it.

“I was pretty fortunate,” he continues. “The route into the Sevens was with the Crichton Cups, which is the youth cup in Melrose, and because I was out at Birkenside, when I was a young fella I didn’t qualify for the likes of Central or Darnick or Gattonside, so I had to wait until Earlston got invited when I was 15 or 16, and I think we actually won it for a couple of years after that, then I played colts for Melrose, before segueing into the senior side.

“It all sounds pretty straight forward but they were huge steps for a young fella who had always dreamed of playing at the Greenyards.”

Hogg was in the Melrose Seven – playing alongside his hero Keith Robertson – which lost at the semi-final stage to a dubious David Campese try for Randwick in 1990, but better days were to come because he is now the proud possessor of three winners’ medals.

“I played for Scotland at the Dubai international sevens in 1992 when we won the tournament, and then I was a member of the squad for the inaugural sevens World Cup at Murrayfield in 1993, so during the build-up to that they sent 12 of us to Canberra, Fiji and Hong Kong on a preparation trip which was like winning the lottery,” he recalls.

“Our final hit-out was as the Co-optimists at Melrose and we won it, although I was actually on the bench for the final in the days when it was replacements rather than substitutes, so I never got on because there weren’t any injuries. My best friend Doddie played in front of me.”


  • The Melrose Sevens festival is this weekend, kicking off with the Hall of Fame Dinner on Thursday night running through to Saturday when 30 teams will compete for either the 1883 Centenary Cup or the Mike Bleasdale Cup.
  • To find out more, click HERE.

Hogg – who earned five full caps for Scotland in the back-row between 1992 and 1994 – had a more central role when his beloved Melrose won back-to-back tournaments in 1997 and 1998.

Bryan Redpath captained the first year and I captained the second year,” he recounts, before discussing the fiercely competitive environment which made Melrose the dominant force in Scottish club rugby from the late 1980s through to the late 1990s.

“We were very fortunate that under the leadership of Jim Telfer we had a culture where we were training four or five times per week, while holding down full-time jobs or studying.

“We trained Sunday morning at 10 o’clock, we trained Tuesday and Thursday and any other day if we needed to. The work ethic, and the will and want to win within that group, was incredible.

“You had an inner belief that you had worked harder than anybody else, therefore you are going to put yourself in a position to win games and trophies. We had 25 to 30 guys training every Sunday morning because they all wanted to play for Melrose.

“It wasn’t up for debate, it wasn’t up for discussion, you were there. I went to university in Dundee and used to travel Tuesday or Thursday nights to train for league games – which was a two and a half hour commute each way in those days – but you never thought twice about it because you wanted to be part of a special group.

“You knew you were making sacrifices to win titles – it wasn’t about taking part, it was about being the best we could possibly be. That was the culture which Jim set and we had strong characters in the dressing room who made sure you were held to account.

Craig Chalmers is one of the most competitive people I have ever come across, you had the leadership of Robbie Brown, and you just had that spine to the team which was there to win no matter what it took, and it worked out quite well.

“It was lively, it was ruthless, it was relentless – but you got the satisfaction from knowing that you had put yourself in the position where you are going to compete for titles.

“And that group of players remain very tight – Craig Chalmers, Bryan Redpath, Stevie Brotherstone, Graham Shiel – we all came through under Jim’s guidance and Jim Telfer’s leadership.

“We won six championships in eight years, won the Scottish Cup and, of course, the sevens, which was all off the back of that competitive environment and culture that Jim created.

“Meanwhile, Rob Moffat brought some of the softer skills to the sevens side, so they were a great partnership and a great foil (for one another).”

 

Doddie Weir and Carl Hogg during their Melrose days
Doddie Weir and Carl Hogg during their Melrose days

 

Fond memories, but Hogg is not purely a sentimentalist. He’s now a coach and that means he has to be pragmatic. Times have changed so it is about adapting – whilst recognising that the historic essence of the sport is its greatest strength.

“A rugby club should be the social heart of the community,” he says. “I’m a big believer that if you create a really good environment where people come down and enjoy social time together then you will find the next Craig Chalmers, the next Doddie Weir, the next Bryan Redpath – that’s how you create the next generation of talent.

“The landscape and the pathway is different now, but that doesn’t mean a player can’t come through at Melrose or any other good club team, and keep that really strong affiliation with where they have come from.

“If someone comes through Melrose then goes off and does really well for Edinburgh and Glasgow then, chapeau, well done. But if we’ve got the environment right then they should still want to go back to their local club and spend social time and put something back, whether that is a coaching capacity or speaking at a lunch or doing whatever it is they can do.”

With all that in mind, he is looking forward to heading back this weekend to where it all began, before rugby took him to south, initially to play for Leeds Tykes, and then a coaching journey which had included over a decade at Gloucester Rugby and Worcester Warriors before landing back in Gloucester with his current role in 2021.

As one of three inductees this year into the Melrose Sevens Hall of Fame, Hogg will attend a gala dinner at the Greenyards tomorrow [Thursday] night, and admits to feeling slightly apprehensive about reconnecting with the figure who almost certainly had the single biggest influence on his rugby career, who happens to also be his uncle.

“Mr Telfer is introducing me and I’m still very nervous in his company,” he admits. “I have huge respect and admiration and gratitude for all he has done. I can’t speak for any of the other guys, but I am so grateful for the opportunity that Melrose gave me. We were products of the very strong environment and very strong culture, so this is a great honour.

“I’ve been out of Scotland for 24 years now. I moved down to Leeds in 2000, where I finished my playing career. I have been back up at home periodically to coach with Edinburgh and the Under-20s, but I was very surprised when I got the call and I still can’t quite believe it.

“Melrose is still my home club – I have wonderful memories of that group of players – it’s going to be great to be back.”

 

  • The Melrose Sevens festival is this weekend, kicking off with the Hall of Fame Dinner on Thursday night running through to Saturday when 30 teams will compete for either the 1883 Centenary Cup or the Mike Bleasdale Cup.
  • To find out more, click HERE.

South of Scotland Barbarians will showcase the spirit of Melrose Sevens, promises Scott Wight

About David Barnes 3957 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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.