When I was a young boy my parents used to take me to the ‘Sevens’ that were held in the beautiful Borders region of Scotland. The tournaments are always held in Spring and traditionally open with he Gala 7s. Next up; the second Saturday in April, we would head to the Greenyards at Melrose where the game of seven-a-side rugby was first played in 1883. The week after, we’d jump in the car and head to Peebles by the banks of the River Tweed and we’d finish off our Saturday excursions with a picnic in Jedburgh sitting pitch-side and soaking up the spring sunshine as the curtain runs down at the end of a long rugby season. Most years we’d make it to Melrose but if the weather was good we would try and complete the set by going to all 4!
Nowadays there are 10 tournaments and teams play for the title of ‘King of the Sevens’ but it is Melrose sports that everyone wants to win. My memory of supporting Watsonians, the club that I would eventually play for was that they had a habit of always getting knocked out in the first round. In 1983 I first played at Melrose in their Centenary tournament and I was hopeful of avoiding a first round exit. When the draw was made we were pitted against the top guest side, the French Barbarians; a side that contained the magnificent French Full Back, Serge Blanco, Jean Baptiste Lafond (who also played full back and wing for France) and former French Centre Patrick Mesney. The first time I touched the ball I made a break from the half way line and the 16,000 strong crowd erupted. Unknown to me Blanco had quickly tracked me back and caught me by the time I reached the 22m line! The rest they say is history. Watsonians took an early bath but I took some heart from the magnificent occasion and from the report in the national newspaper the following day that advised that the French Babas, ‘were almost put out in the first round by a spirited Watsonians side, but scraped through with a Mesny try in the last second’. The French Barbarians went on to win that day but I secretly vowed that one day I’d love to win a Melrose medal. Little did I know but it would take me a few attempts. I had played and won sevens tournaments at school but when I started playing sevens in my senior rugby career a whole new world unfolded. I won the Dubai 7s in 1988 when we played on sand pitches at the Exiles ground with a team called the ‘Huggy Bee Thistles’ but the biggest sevens tournament in World Rugby was and still is the Hong Kong Sevens. I represented the Barabarians and Scotland in Hong Kong but my passion and love for the game of sevens focussed on that medal at Melrose.
In 1996 that dream was realised when I skippered my beloved club Watsonians and lifted the Melrose Cup. We beat Stellenbosch University in the final and their team included a young Bobby Skinstad and Breyton Paulse who both went on to grace the Springbok jersey. Mind you the Watsonian’s team that day also had some notable international players such as Cameron Mather, Duncan Hodge and ‘Lion’s prop forward’, Tom Smith. I have always said that sevens rugby gave me a grounding in the game and allowed me to express myself in XVs. Having played for both Scotland and the British & Irish Lions, my career has ventured down the media side since I retired from playing a number of seasons ago. I have been lucky to commentate on both the HSBC Sevens World Series and World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series over the last few years and have seen the growth of the game accelerate into a phenomenon that will grace the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. To have the sport included in The Olympics is as a result of the many tournaments that are run across the globe. Starting in Melrose, the growth of the Hong Kong tournament has also been part of that journey and these two tournaments will always be at the top of my rugby sevens bucket list. I hope one day you can join me either in Melrose or Hong Kong!