STEPHEN Gemmell is confident that Scotland’s bid to win a medal at the next Commonwealth Games remains on target, after he replaced the departed Phil Greening as national sevens head coach.
Greening, a successful coach with England sevens, was hailed as the man to lift Scotland to a new level in the sevens world when appointed in the summer. However, despite overhauling the sevens programme and training, his sides failed to reach the last eight of the world tournaments and dropped to 15th in the world. He left suddenly around Christmas, The Scotsman understands, after an altercation with a female member of the sevens back-up staff. An agreement was reached with the SRU to sever his contract a year early.
Gemmell coached Scotland for four years with the team floating around eighth to 12th in the world. He was put in interim charge after Greening’s abrupt departure and helped the team to sixth place in both Wellington and Las Vegas.
He was duly handed the role on a permanent basis and, with assistant Graham Shiel, will spearhead Scotland’s bid for a first Commonwealth Games medal before the focus switches to the Great Britain squad for the first Olympic Games sevens tournament in Rio 2016. “This is a massive opportunity for me and the squad to build momentum over the next 18 months towards our home Games in Glasgow,” said Gemmell, after announcing a squad of 18 for the next leg of the HSBC World Series, in Hong Kong, and then a Hong Kong tens tournament.
“When I left it was a collective decision, where there was an opportunity for me to move into a more strategic role [head of player development] within the SRU. Having coached the sevens teams for four years, I felt it was the right decision for me, for the SRU and for the sevens.
“Now, things have happened, we’re 18 months out from the Commonwealth Games and it was a case of ‘what solution do we have here?’ I’m fortunate that other people believed that I could be that solution, but I haven’t come in and ripped the whole thing apart. I’ve come in with an understanding of the players and optimistic about the foundations that we have to build on.”
Under Gemmell, Scotland have swiftly risen from 15th to 12th in the world. Those placed 13th to 15th will drop into a qualification process for next season. “I’m not naïve,” he added. “I’m not saying that we’re sitting 12th and are suddenly world-beaters. We’ve had five tournaments this season and five different winners. We now have 15 core teams and 14 have reached a quarter-final. That’s a big change.
“It’s incredibly competitive now and, while we’re fortunate to have our own tournament at Glasgow to come [in May], we need to build on the improvement in Hong Kong.”
Widening the player pool, he has called up debutants Lewis Young (Jed-Forest), Jack Ferguson (Watsonians), Liam Steele (Stewart’s-Melville) and Fijian Joe Nayacavou, the former Heriot’s back-row, now at Doncaster.
Scotland face Portugal, Samoa and England in the sevens and, as the Scottish Barbarians, in the Hong Kong Tens play England again as well as the Irish Vikings and Samurai International.