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.
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
Monaco Impi’s, winners of the 1883 Centenary Cup #Melrose7s
— THE OFFSIDE LINE (@theoffsideline) April 8, 2023