HARVEY ELMS wasted little time in marking his return to competitive 15-aside rugby in Scotland after two-and-a-half years in the national sevens programme and another 18 months of lockdown, with the 26-year-old flyer registering a try and a try-assist for Watsonians in their Super6 round one victory over Ayrshire Bulls at Millbrae last Sunday.
“Right place, right time for the try,” he shrugs. “Bergy [Lewis Berg] managed to get the offload away and there wasn’t anyone in front, so I just ran it in. And the try-assist was a lucky bounce.”
The back-three man is not doing himself justice here. Being in the right place at the right time is an undervalued talent in rugby, and the ‘lucky bounce’ relates to a sweeping counter-attack in which he collected a clearance kick under pressure, beat the first Bulls chaser on a six-pence and chased down his own well-judged chip ahead (the bounce did go his way), before sending Jamie Forbes home with an excellently timed pass for the try of the weekend.
Elms – who is originally from that prolific rugby talent factory of North Berwick – was an outstanding performer for Currie Chieftains in the old Premiership before getting involved in the national sevens set-up, initially on a part-time deal in 2017-18 and then full-time from 2018-19 onwards.
And while he is still unclear at this stage whether his medium-term future is in 15s or the abbreviated game, he says he is happy just to be back playing regularly after a tough 2020-21 season of effectively being a full-time trainer with Glasgow Warriors following the disbandment of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series being shelved until Covid restrictions ease.
“We [the Scotland Sevens squad] were kind of just placed at either Edinburgh or Glasgow, and I stay in Edinburgh so I was having to travel through four times per week,” he reflects. “It was hard training each week with no real prospect of playing. We had that ‘A’ match [between Glasgow and Edinburgh in February] but the weather was absolutely horrendous so it wasn’t actually much of a game and I think I touched the ball twice if I was lucky.
“It was a tough year, especially the winter months travelling through to Glasgow for training four times a week then coming back along the M8. But it was a big squad, so I wasn’t the only one not getting a run-out.
“Then, with not making the GB sevens team [for this summer’s Olympics], I had to start looking elsewhere. We were told that there wouldn’t be [sevens] contracts in Scotland after May, so a few of us have gone in to Super6 and we’ll play in this league until October. To be honest, I don’t know what is happening after that.
“I am just focussing on this six-month block, trying to enjoy my rugby as much as possible at Watsonians, and hopefully help them win the league. There hasn’t been too much clarity for anyone in the last year and a half, so we’re all getting used to not knowing what is coming round the corner.”
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Elms wasn’t the only recent Scotland Sevens star to make an impact in Super6 last weekend, with scrum-half Kaleem Baretto picking man-of-the-match in Boroughmuir Bears’ Friday night victory over Heriot’s, Tom Brown also showing up well for the Meggetland men in that match, and Nyle Godsmark making the TOL’s team-of-the-week for his performance in Southern Knights colours against Stirling County the next day.
“I don’t know if I would have still been in the sevens programme if Covid hadn’t happened, and we don’t know what is happening in terms of bringing the sevens programme back, so I guess at the moment it is just about enjoying playing 15s and waiting for the dust to settle,” adds Elms.
“I guess having that year with Glasgow helped a bit with transitioning back to 15s but, obviously, playing in an actual game is a bit different.
“Sevens is a lot faster, you have to be a lot fitter and there is a lot more space, whereas 15s is a lot more technical, set-piece is more important and the kicking game is a lot more strategic, so I’ve had to pick up on those sorts of areas again and make improvements there.
“Sevens improves your skills a lot more because you get a lot more involvements, so things like evasion and seeing space translates quite well back into the 15s game, and you have to be really fit as well in sevens so hopefully I’ve kept a bit of that.”
Elms is admirably sanguine about his situation, pointing out on several occasions that he is not alone in having his career interrupted by Covid. Perhaps he draws some of his equanimity from the time he spends off-field as a budding artist.
“I did Higher Art at school, then Sports Management at Edinburgh Uni, so I hadn’t really picked up a pencil or anything for ages until lockdown,” he explains. “My grandad used to do stuff, painting and things like that, so I think that’s where I got my inspiration from.
“Then, when I agreed to start playing Super6, I was thinking about what I could do work-wise alongside it and decided to go down that route. I had a few commissions at the time, and I was thinking if I could keep that ticking over then it would fit in well with my training, so that’s what I’m doing just now.
“Most of the stuff I’ve done is pencil work – sketching stuff – so that can be anything from pet portraits to street views. I have just finished a commission of a townhouse in Edinburgh. I’ve got a piece in one of the art shops in Stockbridge at the moment and I’m hopefully getting another one in soon.
“I’m trying to learn some graphic design stuff as well, so it is just about using the time to learn new things and figure out what I want to do long-term outside rugby.”
Elms will redirect his creative juices back towards the rugby field tomorrow [Friday] night when he lines up once again on the right wing for Watsonians in their Super6 round two clash against Ben Cairns‘ Stirling County at Myreside.
“I worked with Ben for four years when I was at Currie and he’s a great coach,” says Elms. “There is no doubt that Stirling will be a very well-drilled team, very physical and look to have a crack when it is on. Knowing Ben, he will have done his analysis on us, so it should be a good game.”