Remembering 1960: when Cambridge University ruled the roost at Melrose Sevens

On the weekend when Melrose Sevens 2020 was supposed to go ahead, Matt Vallance takes a step back in time to remember one of the great tournaments from a rich history

Ken Scotland captained all all-star Cambridge University team to the Melrose crown in 1960.
Ken Scotland captained all all-star Cambridge University team to the Melrose crown in 1960.

THE second Saturday in April is one of those special days in the sporting calendar – with all roads leading to one venue: The Greenyards, Melrose, for THE celebration of the short form of Rugby Union Football – Melrose Sevens.

For fast-approaching 150 years, the Melrose Sports, the brainchild of local butcher Ned Haig, has drawn aficionados to the picturesque ground, in the shadow of the Eildon Hills. But, not this year, so we thought we’d take a look back – 60 years, to a special Melrose win, featuring one of Scotland’s greatest-ever players.

Cambridge University RFC’s season is very-much focused on one day – the second Tuesday in December, and the annual Varsity Match against Oxford University at Twickenham. So, to invite the Light Blues to play as a guest side at Melrose in the 1960 tournament, four months later and just coming up to exam time, seemed a bit perverse.

Letter from clubs urges SRU President Dee Bradbury to disband governance ‘Task Force’

Stuart Johnson steps down as Melrose Club XV head coach

Schools’ season review: glory for Stewart’s Melville – but growing the base remains the big challenge

Then, when they were drawn to face Hawick, arguably then the leading sevens exponents – well, it seemed a bit of a waste of time. Indeed, the Glasgow Herald’s “Special Correspondent” wrote as much on the Saturday morning. The fact that writer considered a day out of Hawick as a day wasted, might have something to do with his opinion.

However, the Cambridge septet were hardly newcomers to the short game, since their side included five Scots who already were, or would eventually be, full Scotland internationalists, and two of whom who were already British Lions, they were: winger Ronnie Thomson, Gordon Waddell, Jimmy Brash, Cameron Boyle and last but not least Ken Scotland.

“I loved Melrose,” the great former Scotland full-back and captain admitted when I spoke to him about the 1960 tournament. “I had already won there twice, in 1957 and 1958, with Heriot’s, so I was looking forward to the tournament. I thought we had a good squad and we trained hard for the event – as you tended to do back then.

“The original idea was that I would play scrum-half, with Gordon (Waddell) at stand-off, but, at the last minute we swapped positions, and I have to say, Gordon played very well in an unfamiliar role, scoring a quite beautiful and crucial scrum-half’s try to beat Melrose in the semi-final.”

The way the Students saw off the Green Machine, 13-8, in the first round, certainly made the Borders fans sit up and pay attention. They then beat Stewart’s College FP 18-8 to set-up a semi-final against the hosts, with Waddell’s try the key moment in Cambridge’s 20-14 victory.

In the other half of the draw, Heriot’s opened by winning an all-Edinburgh affair against Royal High 13-3. They were again pitted against local rivals in round two, beating Watsonians 13-8 to put themselves into the semi-final, against Glasgow High School FP. A comfortable 21-5 win then set them up for the final.

“It was certainly a bit strange to be facing my own club, whose side included my younger brother Ronnie, and my best mate, Eddie McKeating, in that final,” Ken admitted.

Heriot’s had the better of the early exchanges, to lead 9-5, before two quick tries put Cambridge 15-9 ahead and on their way to victory.

Jimmy Weir, two, and McKeating got the Heriot’s tries in the final, while for Cambridge, Scotland and Mike Watson each scored one try, while Thomson and Alan Godson – who had forged a lifelong friendship with Scotland while playing for the Army – also scored two tries. Godson, who would become a Church of England vicar and one of the founders of the organisation, Christians In Sport, converted one.

The teams in that final 60-years ago were –

Cambridge University: RH Thomson, A Godson, KJF Scotland, GH Waddell; JC Brash, MT Watson, AWC Boyle.

Heriot’s FP: JMK Weir, E McKeating, RJ Scotland, GF Goddard; D Syme, RM Tollervy, N Rushbrook.

There were three Scotland captains involved in that final, Ken Scotland and Gordon Waddell, of course captained the national rugby side, while Heriot’s scrum-half George Goddard went on to captain the Scotland cricket side.

Joint top scorers in the tournament, each with 32 points, were the Scotland brothers. Ken scored four tries and kicked ten conversions, while Ronnie scored five tries, seven conversions and a penalty goal, and, as he repeatedly tells his big brother, at today’s scoring values of five points rather than the 1960 value of three points, Ronnie actually out-scored  Ken.

Letter from clubs urges SRU President Dee Bradbury to disband governance ‘Task Force’

About Matt Vallance 38 Articles
Matt is a former member of Cumnock Rugby Club's 'Mean Machine' - motto: "Well, we won the fight". He has written about some 60 sports in a long career, mainly spent freelancing for, amongst others: The Herald, The Scotsman, The Sunday Times, Scotland on Sunday, the late-lamented Sunday Standard and just about every national paper. He survived a spell at the Paisley Daily Express, covering St Mirren and the Paisley Pirates every week. He now writes a lot of sporting obituaries, since he saw many of his subjects play. Opinionated, passionate and, as one Bill McMurtire once said: "The only Cumnock member (other than Mark Bennett) who can be let out without an escort". In his 70th year, Matt, known to many as: 'Snuff', still has a few noses to get up. Unfulfilled ambition - to live long enough to see Scotland beat the All Blacks.