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

“We are there to compete, we are hoping to go all the way,” promises Greenyards legend

Scott Wight. Image: Craig Watson
Scott Wight. Image: Craig Watson

THE MELROSE SEVENS has always had an international feel to it with invitation teams flying in from all corners of the globe to take a tilt at the 1882 Centenary Cup (the Ladies Cup as was), but this year some spark has scratched their head and come up with a novel idea … why not get a team of local Borderers to compete together under the South of Scotland Barbarians banner.

What’s more, they asked Scott Wight to coach the side. Who better than a genuine Melrose Sevens hero, he helped the club win their own tournament in 2011, and then repeated the trick with Glasgow Warriors in 2014 after turning pro, before going on to do something similar with Scotland. Wight lifted not one but two international sevens series trophies, back to back wins at Twickenham no less, in 2016 and 2017 for anyone out there who may have been asleep at the wheel.

In the second of the two Twickenham wins, Scotland beat arch-rivals England in their own backyard and they only did so after their fly-half, who’s speed over the ground could be timed with a sundial rather than a stopwatch, kicked a restart to himself, winning the ball back on the opposition 10 metre line for the Scots to grab a late winner.


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“It was probably the only time I was too fast for anyone,” Wight might not be joking. “You can’t beat it. Lifting the trophy was special but there were loads of things along the way that people tend to forget about. We probably didn’t get the recognition for what we achieved.

“The only [Scottish] team to beat New Zealand and the manner in which we did it, 21-0 down at half time and finishing 24-21 in a cup quarter-final [2017 at Twickenham]. I think the special one was the first one [win at Twickenham] when we beat South Africa [in 2016]. We went two scores down and when you listen back, Scott Hastings in commentary is saying it would be nigh on impossible from there. It was just a really special day.”

Wight admits to being a little disenchanted with the current GB Sevens (sorry) SVNS side and says that he watches the short game only occasionally these days.

When Scotland had a Sevens squad it offered another vital pathway for young players like George Horne, Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn and Magnus Bradbury who all benefited from their time in the short game.

“Sevens is individually challenging,” says Wight, “and now kids will never get that exposure.” All the more important given Scotland runs just the two pro teams.

Moving the chat on to safer territory, Wight has been handed the task of hoovering up those few Border boys who are not already claimed by their clubs; no easy task. Thankfully the academies have released a few promising youngsters including Hector Patterson (Hawick), Finn Douglas (Earlston) and Kerr Johnston (Gala), who will bring heaps of pace, energy and enthusiasm to the Barbarians side, while veteran stand off Craig Jackson, released by Stirling Wolves, brings oodles of experience.

“Being local, Melrose means a hell of alot to me,” says the coach. “It’s about getting the mix right, about getting the South part right so local people support us. We have to make sure that we have an affiliation to local clubs.

“My thinking is that there will be seven, eight or nine local boys with some exiles (Borderers who play elsewhere) but the twelve man squad will all be Scottish.

“I spoke to Finn Douglas the other night. He has never had the opportunity to play the Melrose Sevens and didn’t think he would get the opportunity being with Edinburgh Rugby now. He is really excited … young kids just jumping at the chance.”

 

 

Wight boasts an excellent coaching pedigree, with Selkirk and more recently with the Southern Knights, a squad of players he pretty much put together this season with the help of the Knights’ DOR Rob Moffat and others.

He works as a project manager for a building company so scrapping the Super Series won’t impact him too badly in a financial sense but he argues that it is a retrograde rugby step.

“It’s really disappointing,” he says, “I don’t think it (Super Series) was that far away at all. So you cancel the one aspect of performance rugby in the club game and we are essentially back to where we were ten years ago when I played!

“Closing the gap between amateur and professional rugby, that was the whole idea. Did it do that? In my eyes, yes. Having been involved with Selkirk for four years and the Southern Knights for one year, the step up in intensity, time on ball, everything was so much more professional.

“It’s hard. How does a young guy get an opportunity? Does a young guy from Melrose or Selkirk go straight into Edinburgh now? Probably not. Extending the age of the academy certainly helps. There are arguments both ways but I think that Super Series was a great tool.”

Wight has victories in Sevens against England, South Africa and New Zealand banked, but what can the coach achieve with a motley crew of young kids and veterans, some of whom will be introducing themselves to each other just hours before kick-off?

“We are there to compete, we are hoping to go all the way,” the ever competitive Wight comes out swinging. “But it’s very difficult when you are turning up on a Saturday morning with a group of boys that have never played together.

“So we have to be realistic, but I think it’s a great step forward, giving local guys this opportunity and we intend to work on this project over the next couple of years.”

 

  • 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.

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About Iain Morrison 151 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

8 Comments

  1. First step – let’s get Scotland sevens back as a pathway, building on youth commonwealth games success. A number of them will be playing on Saturday, all aged 18, which can only be a good thing.

  2. Press the reset button. We have fallen so far behind the world because the pathways are shambolic coupled with a two pro team strategy. We need to address the lack of state school players, work to get the clubs and SRU on the same page, get rid of the archaic coaches and selectors that exist in the game, who have been too long in post.
    We have punched way above our weight for years. Italy, Georgia, Fiji – all these nations will overtake us in world rankings in the next few years. The u20s have been pumped time and again. No stock from our terrible pathways, it is truly a slippery slope until someone has the gumption to change things materially.

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    • Putting the super 6 performance funding into the pathway instead may sound on paper as a good idea, extending the age limit to 23. However, if the selectors in the u16-18 age groups aren’t cleared out and replaced by fresh, impartial selectors then that money is just going to fund, in some cases, the wrong players, for longer.
      The notion discussed, in the conversation piece published a few weeks ago, that the pathway players should be refreshed every year also sounds like a good plan but it was admitted that there aren’t enough people to scout around clubs for late developers and talent wrongly dropped from the pathway (for reasons other than their skill and abilities, if you know, you know.) so how are they going to bring through those talented players into the pathway? There are too many missing parts to the plan. Putting all your eggs into one basket is never a good idea.

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      • Jim didn’t the u18s just perform well in their championship? Wouldn’t that imply the coaching and support staff at thay age are doing well?
        Issues is the step to u20s and the lack of game time for 18-21 years olds at the top level.
        Which family member, club player or kid you coached didn’t get selected?

        Who would meet your criteria for impartial selectors, who pays them, how many do you have, who allocates the games how far down the leagues do they go.
        Club game is already struggling for volunteers, a role like this would attract people with an overlay inflated sense of their own knowledge of opinion keen on the kudos the role could provide.

        With so many voices recommending players, who then is responsible for whittling down those numbers to manageable training and playing groups? someone still has to do final selection.

        You would still have people saying those selectors were bias. Selection at its core is subjective.

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      • Adam, I agree the 18s did well. I have a lot of experience with one particular region. I have watched players come through regionals for years. As much as the 18s did well, and there are some talented players there for sure, there are others who appear to have been selected for Scotland age grade before u16 trials even started. Players who make mistake after mistake in game after game, year after year, yet are never dropped. It doesn’t take much background knowledge of selectors to then understand why those players have a golden ticket through to u20

        Case in point, at one age group in this region there are 11 players from the same team. Wow, you’d think they must be amazing, that team must smash everyone with 11 regional grade players on their team. Take a closer look and you’ll see that their results have been pretty poor especially against fellow teams within the same region. Those fellow teams are lucky to have 1 or 2 players in the regional squad. So what’s the qualifying factor? Take a look at where the selectors have previously worked… I don’t have a player involved but those numbers just don’t make any sense

        The super 6 money is being allocated to the pathway so more money to pay for coaches etc. they don’t use volunteers now so why would they need to going forward? If the pro teams are more aligned to the pathway in future then selectors and coaches should be working through them as part of the performance package. More accountability, more game and performance analysis to ensure no one can sail through whilst constantly underperforming and less of bs that goes on at the moment.

      • And in terms of selection being subjective…the coach logic tool which the SRU pathway uses in the regional stages has analytical tools which can be used to provide evidence based analysis of players’ performance. It’s easy to use and analysis could be done by someone centrally who has no allegiances or conflicts of interest. This would provide lots of information and evidence for selection and deselection. However, although the analysis tool is available to them, it isn’t used.

      • Jim so much in that, so will only pick out a couple. This is definitely few beers in the club topic.

        You disagree with players selected but what makes your viewpoint better that current coaches? Your own bias seems to influence that view.
        I’m sure this isn’t you but it’s those type of petty arguments that have held Scottish rugby back for decades. My club is better than your club, my players should be picked over yours.

        How would scouts be any different, always gonna be a diffidence in opinion.
        What qualification do your scouts need, and who choses the scouts? Jobs for the boys springs to mind.

        What are they looking for, size (you can’t coach genetics), speed, rugby ability rugby intelligence, attitude, leadership? At 15 16 17 18 these vary massively.

        Fundamentally a single coach or 2 will select the final squad, same potential perceived bias exists.

        Finally data driven selection, seriously tackles made, missed, running metres will always benefit the big successful teams, that’s exactly the issue we currently have.

        I appreciate the need for change but more blazers isn’t the answer.

        I totally agree with how players never seem to leave the system when you are in you are in regardless of progress or performance. Maybe that’s a rugby values things where we don’t want to disappoint kids, but professional sport needs to be ruthless

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  3. Lots of good points made by Scott Wight in this article.

    The responsibility lies firmly on Keith ‘Dodson’ Wallace to prove me wrong but i am doubtful that there is going to be a realistic avenue for a lot of our homegrown talent to progress. The proposals to date have been extremely flimsy at best.

    Dark days lie ahead.

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