THE organisers of Melrose Sevens have not had their problems to seek in recent years, with Covid wiping out two iterations of the world-famous tournament in 2020 and 2021, while factors such as the advent of Super6, the loss of BBC coverage and the installation of a state-of-the-art 4G playing surface at the Greenyards have all contributed to a period of uncertainty around where one of the great staples of the Scottish club game fits into the modern rugby landscape.
Tournament director Phil Morris is a glass-half-full-type of guy, so while he doesn’t shy away from the challenges the world famous tournament faces, he also presents a compelling case for believing that the 2023 event – marking 140 years since local butcher Ned Haig dreamt up the concept – can be an action-packed and fun-filled celebration of Borders and Sevens rugby.
“This is the home of rugby sevens, and we want to be the custodians of the game,” he said. “We want to demonstrate its position in the modern world, and it is really important that here in the Borders, the hotbed of Scottish rugby, we give lots of other teams the opportunity to be part of this event.
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“The Saturday is pretty much all sorted in terms of the men’s tournament, with 24 teams lined-up for the Centenary Cup competition, and we’re introducing a formal women’s competition this year for the first time, which we’re really pleased about,” he continued. “We’ve got four high quality teams competing in that – DeltaDrone Tuks from Africa, Durham University, the Lionesses guest side and either Bath or the Army – so I think the crowd is going to really enjoy the quality of that rugby.
“We’ve also expanded the rugby into the Friday this year, to give other teams who would love to receive an invite and opportunity to play at this iconic venue, with one team qualifying automatically for the 2024 competition.”
10 of the 16 teams taking part in this pre-qualification knock-out tournament have been announced. They are: Biggar, Dumfries, Duns, Durham University, Earlston, Langholm, North Berwick, Preston Lodge and Tynedale
“Hopefully what we’re doing is allowing more and more players to have that opportunity, and to demonstrate their skills,” stressed Morris.
“Also, Hawick Youth have kindly let go of their under-18s tournament on the second weekend in April and allowed that to come to Melrose, so those boys who have traditionally not been able to participate or see the 7s can play on the Friday night, hopefully in front of a decent crowd, and I’m sure they’ll enjoy that experience.
Among the guest teams taking part in the main event – the 1883 Centenary Cup – will be last year’s champions, the British Army, as well as invitational sides such as Co-Optimists (who were hotly tipped in 2022 but knocked-out at the quarter-final stage), Samurai (last year’s runners-up), Wild Dogs (from South Africa), Stunts (from Birmingham) and Lions Rugby. Monaco are also on the guest list.
“The international situation hasn’t really settled yet, with places like Australia, New Zealand, even Asia only just properly opening up from the Covid scenario, so we’ve accepted a lot of enquiries from high quality Barbarians-type guest sides, and I think people are going to be quite taken aback with the quality of these teams,” explained Morris. “I can assure you there some fantastic athletes coming who will really light the place up.
“I know it can be difficult for the local sides and one of the reasons we have moved towards allowing Super6 players to join those teams, and also encouraging them to bring in a guest player if they want, is to say ‘let’s get the best rugby we can on at Melrose, and let’s demonstrate why this is the home of rugby sevens’.
“Last year we were coming out of a period of uncertainty with a whole batch of changes,” he added. “Some things we did went really well last year, and other things didn’t necessarily work for the club. The important thing is to keep evolving in order to stay relevant for a new era in the sport.
“We’ve all got to adapt to where sevens fits into a very crowded rugby calendar. What we’re trying to do here at Melrose is make sure that on the second Saturday in April, we get the spotlight on the game, and on this town where it all started.”
There is now just seven weeks to go before the three-day festival kicks-off, with various opportunities available to take part –
Thursday 6th April –
- The Jackson Distillers Hall of Fame Dinner hosted in the 1883 VIP Pavilion from 7pm. This black-tie event will be attended by supporters and stalwarts of the game, providing an opportunity to recognise and celebrate some of the stars from around the world who have contributed to the phenomenal success of 7s rugby over the years. Tickets are £60 and include a three-course meal with a pay bar. For more information, click HERE.
Friday 7th April (Good Friday) –
- Under-18/semi-junior tournament featuring eight Borders teams, interspersed with the 16-team ‘GoFibre Pre-Qualification Tournament’ with the winner earning an invite to the 2024 main event plus a £1,000 prize pot – both played on the main pitch at the Greenyards. For more information, click HERE.
Saturday 8th April –
- A full day of fast paced 7s rugby on the 3G pitch at the Greenyards featuring the men’s 1883 Centenary Cup and the women’s tournament. If you buy a £35 ticket this will give you ‘free’ access to the rugby events on Friday. For more information, click HERE.
- A hospitality package for the 1883 VIP Pavilion offers a day of fine food, drink and best viewpoint of the rugby action, from 10.30am to 7.30pm. For more information, click HERE or email Abi Smith at email@example.com
- A ‘Casual Hospitality’ area on St Mary’s Banking is also available, from 10.30am to 7.30pm. For more information, please email Abi Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Melrose Sevens rounds off with the traditional Party Night, this year in the Fanzone Tent from 8:30pm with DJ Callum Gallacher. For more information, click HERE.
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It is, I think, essential, albeit late to the debate, for me to keep up my perceived identity of an old Dinosaur, or in my mind someone that has an opinion that you don’t have to change tradition [or ethics] of the Sport of Rugby, 7’s or XV’s [plus half a team of players with cheap Caps] just to ensure the survival of either the Sport or traditional competitions.
O the joy of upsetting the usual suspects.
The question is, is it necessary for Melrose 7’s to survive without recourse to opening the invitations up to a degree whereby the essence of the competition is lost? Do they need half a dozen invitation sides with ‘specious’ names at, one assumes, the tremendous cost of flying them in from the other side of the World? I don’t think so.
Only the other day an article in a leading daily National bemoaning the fact that Twickenham had become a nightmare, individuals leaving during the game to get more beers with the resultant disturbance and hoards of people missing the game to enjoy keg beer in plastic containers in the grounds. Even an old soak like me could endure a couple of hours with only the support of a hip flask of Auchentoshan, OK I did have a reserve – for friends, some of them new on the day.
So what happened to the hordes of players and former players that used to turn up to Twickenham or the other Home Unions grounds? The point is when you change for changes sake and that in this day and age normally means a change to make more money rather than improve the event you change the ‘feeling’ of that event and more to the point the participant support.
In all the years I have played and loved the game, I have never been able to get to the Melrose 7’s and on the basis of the above article IF I ever did get the chance to get back home odds are that I would rather consider one of the other border events that continued to instil the feeling of the game as a social event off the field and a locally competitive one on it. Whether it’s a inter house game at school, local derby or the auld enemy without the core traditions that are easily lost by marketing and frankly a dubious reason to be there, the event ceases to be one that dare I say the people that made the Sport and the Event what it was would wish to be there.
Time and again we hear the plea for the need to bring in more money or do this that or the other. Frequently this plea is in the short term somewhat indolent way of running an event.
I rest my case.
Or in summary … rugby is a sport and not a business!
Or a platform for burgeoning razz-matazz, commercialisation, massive publicity and individual egos, AlanJ….? There does indeed appear to be a measure of contrived, convoluted artificiality about this year’s proposals, which is very sad, and already grates.
Not so long ago, the tournament organiser for many years declined my suggestion / offer to put together and fund an essentially SQ invitation team – on the emphatic grounds that Melrose Sevens had always been and would continue to be for “clubs only”. Not such a bad principle! So, with that in mind, why not just stick to the basics, the historical traditions, by staging a wholesome feast of competitive club rugby, whatever the conditions?
I regret the move away from a club only tournament but I’ll leave the hyperbole to you George. I don’t think it adds to your argument.
Indeed George. Gone to hell in an over-hyped handcart.
What a hugely unpleasant post but sadly par for the course from this particular poster.
Good underlying message, though, Joe!
I’m afraid money talks and rugby clubs need funds. The Melrose Sevens has the name and the tradition to use to make money which the other Border sevens tournaments don’t. How many other clubs would do the same if they could?
Having said that I agree that it’s a shame it is no longer a club tournament.
The Stunts. The Wild Dogs. Imagine one of those names was engraved on the famous trophy. The Melrose 7s seems to have lost the essence of what made it so special. All in the name of trying to maximise profits. Such a shame.
Mr Morris seems to be in need of a conversation with a Mr M Dodson. He can find him at Roseburn Terrace Edinburgh.
There was this small matter of Agenda 3 and Super 6. The essential premise being professionals and amateurs won’t meet. Obviously, as that seems to be getting in the way of various commercial enterprises (see said Super 6) that’s a trivial matter and seems to be of no import now. I for one I’m shocked!
But we have a series of workshops next week to discuss changes to the tackle laws in the club game. Left hand meet right!
Home about Melrose for once showcasing the best of amateur 7s. No Super 6 pros;no pro guest sides; no guest players being parachuted in. In the past the great 7s teams have stamped their legacy by winning the trophy.
Couldn’t agree more with what Grey Gorilla says.
Club sides bring families to support them especially when they are local clubs that take part. Perhaps one guest side would be enough.
Struggling to understand why Melrose feel the need to fly all those semi pro sides all over the world to attend their sevens, I would predict that making it an all amateur Scottish team tournament would generate just as much sponsorship and footfall. Secondly with huge levels of concern on concussion and injury in rugby is it really appropriate to be putting pro sides/players in to compete with amateur club sides?
Has the time not come that Melrose must decide whether their tournament is solely for pro sides or amateur teams?
Yeah have to agree. Such a shame to see club sides being marginalised again. I’m far more interested in seeing a Scottish club sides having a tilt at the title than a glut of teams that aren’t especially high profile anyway. A high profile guest side sending a U23 team would be if more interest eg a Harlequins or a Leinster.