SCOTLAND return to the HSBC Sevens World Series stage in Gold Coast next week with a new leadership group and a new focus.
Playing as Team Scotland, their Commonwealth Games dreams ended at the quarter-final stage, but Scotland 7s have had moderate success on the European circuit since. However, new head coach Calum MacRae is not getting carried away just weeks into his three-year tenure.
He said: “It was a starting point to see where the group is. From the specifics we’ve been working on from a defensive point of view, it’s a step in the right direction, but we still have periods in the performance that we need to work on.
“The boys are aware of that and our focus, primarily, will be on the defence to make sure that we are a very, very hard team to get a result against.”
A former Scotland A and Scotland 7s player, competing on the world stage is familiar to the 34-year-old Melrose man who was skills coach at Newcastle Falcons last season.
Gone are the lofty World Series ranking targets that previous groups have failed to achieve. MacRae’s Scotland will be about fronting up, with a focus on performance goals which, in turn, drive success. Attacking goals will come after the defence is strengthened.
“Over the course of the next two to three seasons I want to see the changes that I can make implemented in order to progress the group,” added MacRae.
“It’s important that we look to be competing in the Cup competition of every tournament we play in. If we can consistently do that, then the ranking will take care of itself.
“That’s something we’ve sat down as a group and discussed. It’s a good performance goal that will challenge the group, but also give us the outcome we’re looking for from the ranking point of view.
“It’s important that, rather than having broad goals, we focus on the performance ones. We have something very tangible to go into the competitions and focus on.
“If we do compete in the Cup competitions, that will put us in a higher position than we have been previously.”
To achieve MacRae’s target in Queensland, Scotland’s defence will have to be at its best to stop top-five sides Fiji and Australia, as well as Portugal, on day one, with South Africa potentially waiting in the Cup quarter-finals on day two.
Another early change to MacRae’s Scotland is the captaincy. Colin Gregor remains an integral part of the core squad, but it is former Glasgow Warriors stand-off Scott Wight who has been chosen to lead the team after doing so in Manchester and Bucharest.
“It was important that I came in and had a look of the culture and dynamics within the squad,” MacRae explained.
“You need an individual as captain who will consistently challenge the group – someone comfortable doing that consistently – and Scott’s consistently done that.
“It was a very clear and easy choice for me as to who would be the best candidate for the captaincy.”
MacRae admits that, like his predecessor Stevie Gemmell, he is not averse to boosting the core squad with 15s players, but insists their call-ups will be on merit as is the case with Glasgow Warriors duo Lee Jones and Rory Hughes, while Edinburgh Rugby winger Damien Hoyland and Edinburgh Accies full-back Nyle Godsmark have been handed World Series debuts after featuring last month.
“My perception is that players come across from the pro game into the Sevens rather than coming down into the Sevens programme,” he said.
“It takes individuals who have got Sevens pedigree to come across – guys like James Eddie, Rory Hughes and Lee Jones, who’ve had Sevens experience throughout their careers.
“First and foremost, we have our core squad of players – the guys I’ve got the most contact with.”
MacRae added: “I’m going to be afforded the best opportunity to progress and mould them.
“I’ll only pick [15s] players who I think are fit in terms of the Sevens pedigree to make sure the right candidates come across.”
For Gold Coast (11-12 Oct)
Scott Riddell, Gregor Young, Struan Dewar, James Johnstone, Colin Gregor, Mark Robertson, Damien Hoyland (Edinburgh), Nyle Godsmark (Edinburgh Accies), Rory Hughes (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Wight (captain), Lee Jones (Glasgow), Lewis Young.