Melrose Sevens: Monaco Impi’s stun the Greenyards

Lionesses triumph over Hearts and Balls to claim the women's trophy

Monaco Impi’s won the Melrose Sevens 1883 Centenary Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Monaco Impi’s won the Melrose Sevens 1883 Centenary Cup. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

LEWIS STUART @ The Greenyards

THIS will always be remembered as the year when the team from nowhere won the Melrose Sevens. Before now, who had heard of the Monaco Impi’s? Hardly anyone, not even some of the players who are now proudly clutching winner’s medals.

It was a stunning result for the invitation side, who beat one of the pre-tournament favourites and last year’s runners-up, the Samurai, 26-12 in the final, after their opponents had beaten the reigning champions, the British Army 26-5 in the semi-final.

The Impi’s had other ideas. They never let the more fancied side settle in the final and, as coach David Bolgashvili pointed out, they took their chances better.


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Even so, the scale of their achievement seemed to shock even him. “We’ve only existed for six years,” he said. “We haven’t reached a final anywhere before. So it’s the first time in my life and it’s a great experience. We are very happy especially when you take regard the level of some of the other teams.

“It’s a team pulled together from an international select to help them improve,” he added, pointing out that Scotland, England, France and Monaco were all represented in the side, making it a true coming together of nations.

“The players come from different backgrounds, from all over the place, and yet they gelled together into a side. It is a magic magic experience to do so much. I’m very proud about the way they have come together – more than even the result.

“It was difficult to create a game plan in such a short time but somehow we seemed to manage it and earned ourselves a super result.”

The expectation had been that after the fireworks of the semi-final where the Samurai never let the army settle, the final would be a foregone conclusion.

“We knew they were going to be physical and they were,” Samurai coach Bruce Aitchison said. “You get pressure situations and the question is how you deal with them. Things didn’t quite go the way they had in earlier rounds. Perhaps we needed bigger tests earlier to figure these things out.

“The Impis seemed to gel really well showing good clarity in both defence and attack and they handled the pressure positions better. We showed a lot of heart and desire and did well in the earlier rounds but in the final it just didn’t happen for us.

“That’s two finals in a row. We’ll just have to come back next year and hope it’s third time lucky.”

 

In the qualifier final, there was disappointment for the Scots when the battle of the university sides saw Durham comprehensively defeat Edinburgh. After coming through Friday’s knockout stage, the two sides met just before the main final with the English university running out 36-0 victors to earn their place back at the main event at Melrose in 12 months.

That was closely followed by even more local heartbreak when the Scots-based Hearts and Balls invitation side lost a dramatic women’s final to the Lionesses. With former Scotland players such as Megan Gaffney and Hannah Smith in their ranks against a team mainly based south of the Border, there was no hiding which team the crowd backed.

It turned out to be a dramatic final too, with the Hearts and Balls team pulling back a late try through Edinburgh University wing Rhea Clarke to level the scores at the end of normal time, only to see Suzi Flowers, who plays for Wasps in England, cross to end sudden death extra time with the key score.

The upset result made the whole occasion all the more memorable, though, and for Phil Morris, the tournament director, the whole day had been a resounding success. “Great rugby, lovely weather the crowd had a great time,” he said. “It was a fantastic final but the quality of rugby was up there all day.”

 

Preliminary round: Boroughmuir 12 Kelso 17; Edinburgh Accies 12 Jed-Forest 38; Gala 12 Watsonians 28; Stunts 10 Hearts & Balls 19; Peebles 14 Stirling County 35; Heriot’s 22 Hawick 7; GHA 29 Selkirk 0; Marr 21 Currie 17.

First round: Melrose 45 Kelso 0; Speranza22 17 Jed-Forest 7; London Scottish Lions 29 Watsonians 21; Monaco Impi’s 30 Hearts & Balls 0; Samurai 33 Stirling County 10; Lions Rugby 33 Heriot’s 10; British Army 28 GHA 10; Wild Dogs Rugby 22 Marr 10.

Quarter-finals: Melrose 14 Speranza22 31; London Scottish Lions 15 Monaco Impi’s 26; Samurai 36 Lions Rugby 12; British Army 31 Wild Dogs 12.

Semi finals: Speranza22 17 Monaco Impi’s 24; Samurai 26 British Army 5.

Final: Samurai 12 Monaco Impi’s 26.

  • Scorers in Final –
    • Samurai: Tries: Pepper, McGovern; Con: Nurse.
    • Monaco Impi’s: Tries: Brown, Melville, Oudard, Osbourne; Cons: Osbourne 3.
  • Final teams –
    • Samurai: W Glover, W Cave, T Brown, G Jones, A Nurse, M Pepper, J Milkacius, C Venables, K McGovern, G Guidry, O Jones, C Carson.
    • Monaco Impi’s: T Bush, B Holder, L Oudard, O Melville, C Osbourne, I Tolosano, A Slowik, R Roccia. F Rodrigo, E Guy, O Brown, I Soren Cabioch.
    • Referee: R Campbell


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About Lewis Stuart 77 Articles
Lewis has been writing about rugby for almost 40 years, the last 18 as a freelance based in Scotland bringing his wealth fo experience to just about every publication in the country. These days you can hear him as well by tuning in to his Wednesday night show on Rocksport Radio.

25 Comments

  1. Perhaps the bad news for some is that the crowd was very healthy indeed and it was an enjoyable day. The fanzone was really busy
    Perhaps not all being the traditional 7s supporter .
    What a disaster if a new level of interest was created to replace the supporters who actually no longer go to tournaments
    Hopefully with the changes in league sizes home clubs will be able to strengthen squads and begin to compete again.
    I’d love to see big crowds at other events, selkirk and jed can be great days but crowds are smaller every year , maybe us oldies have to accept aye been no longer works

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  2. The most telling result of the day was Boroughmuir 17 Newton Stewart 93. A club close to my heart has, by taking part in this event that has lost its soul in the pursuit of cash, destroyed the race to promotion from National League Division 2. Taking 12 players away from their first XV who even at full strength has sadly struggled this year in the league, to play in a tournament where “home” team expenses are no longer paid, is regrettably unacceptable. I wonder if the Championship Committee will find a need to investigate a team putting out a deliberately weakened team to fulfill a league match. Sanctions have been imposed in the past.

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    • I understand some of your angst but Nat 1 and below is amateur and it is up to the players when and where they wish to play, I don’t think money would be an influencing decision in playing at Melrose. The title is still very much up for grabs in Nat 2 and I’m sure Glasgow Accies who were most affected by this result will not be blaming Boroughmuir and their players for failure to get promotion. They will know their fate has been decided by their own failure to gain the necessary points.

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    • Boroughmuir were finished in Melrose at 11:15am If the 12 of them had jumped in their cars they’d have been back at Meggetland by 12:06pm with a 15 minute warm-up under their belts.

    • That Muir team at Melrose was young laddies, very few h inf played first team rugby. Give yourself a shake

  3. I couldn’t attend this year and have concerns over the type of invitational sides.
    However I watched some of it online and those sides were decent quality. The scottish sides do themselves and the event an injustice as they don’t send their best players. If they did I have no doubt they could compete.
    Over the years Melrose when in cup and premiership semi finals and finals very rarely if ever failed to send the strongest possible squad to support other events and did well. Certain border clubs have not reciprocated in any way. SO it’s a choice not to be a good as they could be. Those who say it should be more traditional should also see the other tournaments are really struggling 1.to get a full compliment of teams including all border clubs .2 to be worth watching and 3 to maintain a worthwile attendance.i can remember many a big day at gala sevens, it’s now a family day as the sevens alone didn’t work financially and they couldn’t get 16 teams.
    Do you just sink with the rest or be different to keep it going?
    The knockers will always knock as its easy
    When coming up with the answer isn’t your responsibility.

    They tried some stuff last year, bits were dropped this year hopefully again the same will happen and the tournament will continue
    In good health.

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    • The difference with the Melrose 7s Rugbyfan is that it was still a huge success before they introduced these changes. There was no reason to meddle in this way with it in the name of ‘progress’. The evidence that this approach isn’t working was there for all to see. I grew up watching and attending the 7s and could relate a lot with the pre tournament article of Bruce Aitchison. I want nothing more than to see the event returned to its former glory i.e. what it was before Phil Morris appears to have got involved. They’ve tried it, it hasn’t worked.

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    • Agree with a lot you say. The league and cup have had an adverse effect on the 7’s but with the sensible decision to go to 10 team leagues maybe the 15’s season will have less effect.
      There is one problem I see as a player/ team from Scotland, realistically you haven’t a hope in hell of winning against professional teams. I’m not sure if it’s possible but could you have a cup tournament for the teams that get through the qualifying round but get knocked out in the first round proper, maybe create a little interest for the club teams.
      I can only imagine how difficult it has been for Melrose to keep the tournament a success given everything that is going on. From what I’ve seen when I’ve been and watching yesterday on tv it is still very popular and well attended, well done to all those involved in the organisation.

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    • Rugby fan.
      Lots of call offs from Borders 7s in the last couple of years are due to the teams having to play league or cup games on same day as the 7s sports or they will be penalized by the powers that be up at Dodson city
      SRU couldn’t give a monkeys if it disrupts 7s .
      Not their problem they would say.

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      • Daffy d
        I can assure you, you are mistaken
        . Teams invited to Melrose 7s are not subject to punishment if they have games to play but are also invited to Melrose on that day. Plus any such rulings are put in place and judicated on by club regulations which are then implemented by sru.
        It’s a choice as is sending a weakened squad when theres an important game the next week
        Those who decide the 7s event isn’t important which is their choice can’t then moan when alternatives are sought.
        As said before Melrose always did their utmost to send the best available to other events. Melrose were in I think 9 cup finals in 11 yrs and never failed to be in the prem playoffs but remained very competitive in kings of sevens. It all comes down to choice

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    • The reason Other Borders 7 s comps have to put up with teams withdrawing is due to having to play league games way into 7s season …..should be started and finished earlier with view to having Sevens season when leagues are done and dusted
      Melrose always had their day clear of other fixtures .that’s how teams sent their strongest sides ..
      Times have changed now .most clubs with the way things are nowadays are looking after their own interests .
      Melrose have had it all their own way up to now .they have never been bothered about other clubs before only themselves
      They will find out how the real world works now .

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      • Some might say that by hosting the sort of tournament they just have Melrose know exactly how the world works now even if it upsets the usual anti-Melrose suspects.

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  4. Well, some of the rugby was indeed of high-ish quality. But, is that the be-all and end-all – did it really connect with anyone other than a few partying “theatre-goers”?

    Hopefully, one day soon those in charge of rugby at Melrose will wise up. recognise the artficiality of one blustering self-promoter’s ego-trip and realise they’ve ended up with just another superficial jazzed-up sevens event, on the slippery slope!

    Sometimes, as the song goes – “you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone…..”. Unless it is called Morris.

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    • Given the crowd I saw there yesterday and what I’ve witnessed when I’ve been recently it is connecting with a lot of people. Maybe they are not your die hard rugby followers but that is no different to internationals at Murrayfield these days. Sport is about entertainment and theatre and I think Melrose given all the circumstances have done well.

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      • It might be worth considering the implication of your thought that ‘Maybe they are not your die hard rugby followers but that is no different to internationals at Murrayfield these days’.
        Well in my opinion those are exactly the people that you can’t rely on, enticed by the vacuous ramblings as heard painfully loud recently at Murrayfield over the Tannoy, or perhaps a bunch of ‘stuffed’ Sheep: what happens when you loose the core support?
        What ever happened about conversation with friends or other supporters about the game, do we need supposed ‘entertainment’ or a pair of blokes yodeling about walking 500 miles at any lull in play: or composite sides, and I don’t include Barbarians or Traditional Guest teams in that group?
        I’m afraid that many events seem to be relying on the LCD rather than the HCF, if you get my drift, in other words pandering to an audience that is fickle at best. There’s a saying if it ain’t broke don’t tamper with it.

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  5. Whether Rugby 7s or Rowing Regatta, we used to call them ‘Pot Hunters’ composite sides or crews from various clubs with more than a few ‘Ringers’ on board, on the odd occasion like the Harpenden Pub 7s that was one thing but perhaps a Traditional event like the Border 7s it’s not on.
    Guest sides at Melrose used to be a Club side like London Scottish or Rosslyn Park, most likely to be the winners of the Middlesex 7s, that’s one thing but I think you need to draw the line at one or possibly two guest sides and, in my opinion, they should be a genuine club side. As regard a basic £35 entry, a bit steep I would have thought, is that in order to pay the costs for the invitation sides, probably I suppose.
    The game is in danger of implosion on so many fronts, mixing amateur, semi-pro and professional sides is just another of those directional moves that endanger the Traditions of the Sport.
    Would Melrose as a Club or the Tournament survive were it to keep to the Border Clubs with a couple of guest sides in the form I suggested, I think it would and be the better for it in the long term because once you introduce and continue to introduce professional invitation sides eventually they will be the norm the other Border Clubs will see it as a pointless and somewhat futile exercise and the Melrose Sevens will not I suggest be sustainable in that form because eventually the club will not be able to have the finance to support it in essence the direction that they seem to have is a short sighted one.
    As ever other opinions are available.

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  6. I was partly against it on Friday night but I completely changed tune come the final whistle last night. I thought yesterdays tournament was very entertaining and this is what you want to see quality sides showcasing amazing skill and lightning pace. Yes, in a way it gives the amateur team an unfair disadvantage but it’s 1 of 10 tournaments in the kings circuit where you get to test yourself against these great teams to see what level you’re at personally and it’s been a huge honour in the past to have had the chance to do so.

    For the other 9 tournaments these amateur clubs are able to compete for honours, put on a show and enjoy the party afterwards.

    For any supporter who is critical of this and hasn’t actually been a player/coach then you have no right to slate Melrose or any other borders club as so much hard work goes on behind the scenes to make days like this possible.

    Bottom line is you need good invitational sides… rugby is about progression and challenging yourself as a player.

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  7. As a Melrose local, I can very much say the magic of the 7s has gone. Firstly, £35 for general entry is a disgrace, especially for those traveling. Melrose RFC have already priced many people out of the 7s, and they have to be very careful here to not put a lot more people off. This is a prime opportunity that should be encouraging as many people to watch high quality amateur rugby as possible, not putting people off. Taking this off the BBC is also beyond stupid, and just means less and less eyes on the tournament.

    I don’t want to claim to speak for everybody, but ever since the invitation of professional teams I feel the tournament has lost its magic- especially the last two years. Amateur or university guest teams from overseas makes the 7s great, but inviting professional athletes and then expecting amateur rugby players to physically compete with them is short sighted at best. Everybody loves watching good quality rugby, but if the playing field is uneven it devalues the experience for many (including players!)

    Once again I don’t claim to speak for everyone but I would personally much rather watch a high quality final between for example: A Scottish team Vs University side from SA/ NZ/ Australia than two invitational semi-pro sides at an amateur 7s competition.

    Total agree they need two competitions, one for professional/semi pro sides and an amateur one. It would give something for everyone.

    Hope the rugby club listens and realises that there is more to a good event/tournament than short term profit- but I won’t be waiting with baited breath!

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    • I agree with most of your points (and most of the others in the thread thus far) but don’t think you can blame anyone involved in running the tournament for it not being shown on the BBC.

      I’d slightly modify your two men’s competition idea to have one for club sides and one for non-club invitational/S6 sides.

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    • Used to be £20 on the gate till recently. Does £35 now include the junior 7s and the 2024 qualifiers? Or are they free anyway?

      If it’s £35 just for the Saturday, well the price has almost doubled. And why do some 7s struggle to get all their teams? Surely only the April 7s clash with leagues? In May there might be one or two involved in cup final day but they must have 10 decent guys left not in the squad for Murrayfield.

  8. I watched much of yesterday’s tournament on the livestream and I find it quite upsetting to see what they’ve done to this event. It was steeped in tradition, eloquently portrayed by Bruce aitchison in his article yesterday. It has all gone. And the crowds that once packed the embankments right up to the final have also gone, along with the embankments. I don’t know if these changes can be reversed but they haven’t worked. Perhaps as Alistair below says, they need to go the whole hog and just turn it now into a multi-tournament festival. I just don’t get why they did this. To make more money? Well, at what cost?

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    • Scot Abroad, notwithstanding his evocative earlier words, the fragrant Bruce was actually managing one of the (invitation select team) finalists….

      Clearly, Mr A has an identity crisis, and should put his money where his mouth is!

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  9. Melrose aren’t interested in local teams anymore. The invitational sides used to add a bit of exotic flavour, now they are the norm. It might as well be called the Melrose International 7s. In fact why not split it in 2, one tournament for Scottish teams and one for the pro’s? Traditional 7s thrives elsewhere happily and those events are more even. Scottish teams are just cannon fodder for the pro’s.

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    • 100% the above…I would to see the Young twins letting rip & young guns getting an equal chance. All the teams play all the rounds, no byes…..and only two invitational….Otherwise just call it HSBC sevens & the Locals will get on with their Border 7s…..shame that Melrose have seen fit to sideline the Locals !!

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