If one no longer saw current Scottish internationalists, future ones were on view. At Melrose for instance around the turn of the century, the Player of the Tournament Award went in quick succession to Chris Paterson, Marcus Di Rollo and Mike Blair, none of whom, as I recall, would feature on the amateur Sevens circuit again. Moreover, now that some sort of order has been brought to the professional game even here in Scotland, comparably talented youngsters will now often have full professional contracts with Glasgow and Edinburgh from an early age. Once upon a time Stuart Hogg and Darcy Graham would have shone, probably for years, in a Hawick Seven, as well as in the Six Nations.
Selkirk could once field two British Lions in their Seven – John Rutherford and Iain Paxton – while another Lion of that 1983 vintage, Roger Baird, scored try after try in a great Kelso Seven which latterly included another future Lion, John Jeffrey. No wonder some feel that the glory has departed from the Sevens circuit.
Attendances at club matches have also declined, and one consequence is that only the most knowledgeable spectators at any Sevens tournament will recognize the players on view. At the same time spectators no longer have the opportunity to mingle between ties with international stars. What one may call the rugby family is now divided; and the Sevens are poorer as a consequence, poorer because certainly less glamourous.
However the clubs remain fully committed to the Sevens. The King of the Sevens league table has proved a success, and an afternoon at the Sevens – Selkirk today – is still one of the happiest of rugby experiences. Selkirk beat Melrose in last week’s Earlston final in a cracking match which you can watch on the Radio Borders video. There was plenty of skill and enterprise shown by both sides, but Selkirk’s victory was based on a determined and intelligent defence.
Defense may not win games, but defensive weakness and errors certainly lose matches, a thought that Edinburgh and Glasgow will – or should – be taking into their European Challenge Cup quarter-finals today. Both clubs are coming off defeats. Glasgow lost both matches on their mini-tour of South Africa. Edinburgh, more surprisingly and disappointingly, went down to Ulster, losing their hitherto unbeaten record in their new stadium. Both are in danger of seeing what has been in many ways a pleasing season petering disappointingly out. Both can in mitigation point to a longish injury list, but this is the case with most clubs in the last weeks of a long season.
On the face of it Glasgow have the most formidable task, away to Lyon while Edinburgh are at home to Wasps. French clubs have not always committed themselves whole-heartedly to the Challenge Cup, and Glasgow may hope that Lyon, standing fifth in the Top14 but not yet assured of a place in the league’s play-offs, have at least one eye on their chance of domestic glory. On the other hand they might well think that the Challenge Cup offers them a better chance of a trophy. Be that as it may, away victories have always been rare for Scottish teams in France – or indeed in England and, recently, Ireland. Winning this evening would be Glasgow’s best result in a couple of years.
Edinburgh’s opponents, the Wasps, have had an indifferent season and languish in the lower half of the English Premiership, having lost ten of their twenty-three league matches. Defeat today would leave them with nothing significant to play for in the last weeks of the season. Edinburgh are not quite in that boat, not yet anyway, but having lost in South Africa before going down to Ulster, defeat today would surely take the gloss off what has been up to now a successful and exhilarating season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.