Melrose gave themselves the ideal confidence lift ahead of their own tournament next Saturday by wining the 123rd Gala Sevens at Netherdale yesterday with victory over a competitive Watsonians side.
In so doing, they took a first but decisive step towards a successful defence of their Kings of the Sevens title.
It may be regarded as the curtain raiser to the Greenyards event but yesterday’s Gala tournament, the first of ten rounds in the gruelling Kings of the Sevens title race, produced some quality rugby even as teams familiarised themselves with the different demands of the short game. That process was made easier by the decision of Gala to opt for a pool format for a third successive year, meaning that each of the teams was guaranteed three games and, for 50 percent of them, four ties – exactly what is required for improvement.
On the day, it was Melrose who looked the likely winners despite an inauspicious start as their coach, John Dalziel, acknowledged. “We were a bit lethargic in the pool rounds but I thought we played some superb rugby in the semi-final against Gala and in the final against Watsonians. Next week, however, will be a step up but we now know what we have to do” he said.
Melrose came through their pool matches achieving a comfortable win over Peebles and then a more hard-earned victory against a gritty Jed-Forest side who showed wonderful sevens skills but who seemed intent on playing the game in slo-mo. The Greenyards side then met hosts Gala in the first of the semi finals where the pace and experience of Callum Anderson helped Melrose to a 28-17 win over the Maroons.
For their part, Watsonians, the one city side who can mix it with the Border teams on a regular basis, showed why they will be serious contenders for the “Kings” title by playing fast and skilful sevens with impressive contributions from their Scotland under-20 back row, Neil Irvine-Hess, pacy outside backs Ally Ledingham and Scott McKean, and their veteran orchestra maestro Mike Ker.
After winning handsomely against Kelso and Glasgow Hawks in the pool matches, Watsonians subdued a lively Hawick seven in the second of the semi-finals, winning 31-12.
Then, in a quality final, the two teams were level at half-time with the scoreline at 14-14, Watsonians having scored tries by McKean and Ker, both converted by Ker, and Melrose having had touchdowns from Grant Runciman and Joe Helps, Andrew Skeen adding the extra points to both. But a strong second-half performance by Melrose produced further tries for Mill, Bruce Colvine, and South Africa Sevens cap Austin Lockington, all converted by the infallible Skeen, Watsonians’ only response was a try from scrum-half Ramsay Young.