Now fully fit and raring to go, South African talent Austin Lockington could be a key player for Melrose at their own sevens this weekend.
The 21-year-old is loving life in the Scottish Borders having joined the club last summer after one of his coaches at the Western Province Institute back home suggested he think about a move abroad.
Despite an ongoing groin problem Lockington played his part as Melrose sensationally won the league following a last-day RBS Premiership win over Currie.
At times he has formed an explosive back three line-up at the Greenyards, taking his place at either wing or full-back with exciting players such as Edinburgh Rugby-bound Damien Hoyland, Callum Anderson and Fraser Thomson alongside him. He explained: “When the opportunity came up I was delighted to come to Scotland for some ‘life experience’ and to play some good rugby. When I arrived I was struck straight away by the professional attitude of the squad and the willingness to improve.
“The season has gone really quickly and to win the league at home was something special. Soon after the celebrations that weekend our attentions turned to sevens and that was easy for me because I love that form of the game.”
Lockington grew up in Malawi before heading to South Africa and ending up at Michaelhouse in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Michaelhouse is a well-known sports school, producing the likes of current Springbok Pat Lambie, and there his rugby flourished, mainly playing stand-off. Then at the Western Province Institute he learnt a lot and was able to train with the professionals, including some internationals, on a fairly regular basis. He was also involved with the South African Sevens Elite Player Development (EPD) squad.
“That time in the sevens back-up squad was really good for me as a young guy because I learnt so much from those around me and some of the older guys in that group had played a lot of IRB Sevens events. We went to a tournament in Kenya and won it and the final was played in front of a massive crowd and the atmosphere was wild. It was one of the highlights of my career so far, and I hope that the Melrose Sevens 2014 becomes one of the highlights too.”
As soon as he arrived in the Borders town last summer, Lockington was told about the ‘sevens week’ and what excitement it brings and now he has seen it first hand with the marquees and temporary stands being erected around the Greenyards for Saturday’s big event, which is likely to draw a crowd in excess of 10,000.
Melrose, who famously won the event three years ago, go into the tournament on a high having won the Gala Sevens at Netherdale last weekend.
Lockington admitted it was a bit of a shock to the system having to play four ties in one day, but he loved the experience. He said: “As soon as we started sevens training a couple of weeks ago you could tell that we had some good sevens players in our group and I think there are 15 or 16 guys challenging for places in the squad of 10. We have a lot of pace and skill in our squad, but I think John [Dalziel, the head coach and a former Scotland Sevens player] was worried a bit about our physicality.
“However, we had to play Gala on their own patch in the semi-finals and we managed to front up in that one and come through, so it was a solid start to our Kings of the Sevens campaign. Now everyone is just working on tweaking things this week.”
In the Melrose squad at Gala they had plenty of options in the backs with half backs Bruce Colvine and Andrew Skeen delighted to have the pace of Lockington, Hoyland and Anderson out wide. The South African played mainly at centre at the Gala tournament and was delighted that, for the first time in a while, his groin was feeling 100 percent. He said: “Saturday was the first time I have felt I have been able to get up to full speed in a few months, so I have managed to time that perfectly with the start of the sevens season.
“At our own tournament clubs like Glasgow Warriors and Clermont will be favourites because their squads are professional, but I really believe we have a good sevens squad together and with the crowd behind us roaring us on, who knows what could be possible?”
Certainly, if the Melrose class of 2014 can follow in the footsteps of the class of 2011 and win the event, Lockington will always be welcomed back to the town with open arms.