Last week was a wash-out for me because most of it was spent watching youtube. Rather than kittens playing piano or fat blokes jiggling their wobbly bits I have been hooked by 1 minute and 15 seconds of rugby, which has been on a more or less continuous loop: the last two tries from the HSBC-sponsored London Sevens.
One year after the squad’s very existence was under threat, the Scotland Sevens side won their first ever series tournament, at Twickenham of all places, and they did so in style, conjuring up two tries in the final 75 seconds of the match to beat the “Blitzboks”. Scott Hastings’ brilliant commentary only underlined what we were all thinking: “Two tries in a minute and a quarter, that’s well-nigh impossible.”
Yet Scotland scored those two tries, both of them falling to Dougie Fife who is unwanted by Edinburgh Rugby, although both were down to Scotland’s unique passing/offloading game that you can see on any Borders circuit in the spring.
“We always believed we could beat any team but putting six ties together was our issue, especially on the second day,” says Mark Robertson. “We were very good at getting to the quarter-finals last year but then we struggled on the second day because we got so excited about getting there… you have that come-down on the second day and it’s hard to get back up there again. And that’s [down to] experience. We knew when we hadn’t lost a game on that first day [in London] we knew that we had to just stay cool.”
A customer who’d watched the sevens on television walked into Keith Robertson’s car dealership in Earlston last week and asked the former Scotland centre if he was Mark Robertson’s dad. The story is recounted with undisguised glee by Junior, who has finally turned the tables after being “Keith Robertson’s boy” for as long as he can remember.
Mark also recounts that watching the TV at home his mum was worried that Keith had suffered a heart attack because he came over all faint at the final whistle, such was the emotion of the event.
At the age of 31, Mark Robertson has been around the houses more than once, one of the veterans in what is a relatively young and inexperienced group. He insists that everyone within the sevens squad believed they could win a tournament but understands why those on the outside might have harboured doubts. Scotland only qualified for the main cup competition on two occasions this season, Vancouver and London, so what was it that nudged them over the finishing line last weekend?
“This year we’ve had some boys that have come in who are extremely talented physically,” replies Robertson. “(Scrum-half) Gav Lowe has an X-factor that we haven’t had in that position before. We’ve got Jamie Farndale who’s come in and everyone has always known he’s physically capable, strong, powerful, fast, but he’s shown he can play rugby now as well and he’s got so much better.
“Those (new) boys getting some experience and the older guys, me, Riddler (Scott Riddell) and Whitey (Scott White), that combination allowed us to play at a level where we can beat the better teams… I think that last weekend was more about knowing we had the potential to do something and we have known that for a long time.”
The Fijians won the overall title and, hanging around to collect their medals, they seemed almost as delighted at Scotland’s unexpected success as they did for their own; offering handshakes and hugs in a show of solidarity. Some of the Fijian magic obviously rubbed off on the Scots whose off-load stats have gone through the roof.
“That is probably the team we are closest to because of (Fijian born, Scotland sevens player) Joe Nayacavou,” explains Robertson. “He is highly respected over in Fiji and they are always so compassionate with each other, laughing and joking and a couple of them especially spend a lot of time with us.
“They are a really, really good group of boys. Ben Ryan has brought a lot to them, and he is quite forthcoming with us, telling us where our strengths are and our weaknesses too, that they will pick on.”
In a previous life Ryan coached England with notable success although the Red Rose brigade have recently slipped in the rankings to finish this season in eighth place, just two places and five points above Scotland.
Despite the fact that Scotland have beaten the Auld Enemy in seven out of their last eight meetings, Robertson is one of just five Scots and five Welsh amongst 15 Englishmen selected for the 25-strong Great Britain training squad.
They go into camp today in West London’s Lensbury Club to start preparations for the Rio Olympics. Because the UK’s three countries (Ireland put out a united side) field separate teams the GB coach Simon Amor needs to blend England, Wales and Scotland into a unified fighting force and has almost no time to do so.
The squad will send two teams to four European tournaments (Moscow, Exeter, Gdynia and Allianz Park) in the coming weeks although Amor will already have whittled his squad down to just 12 players plus two reserves by the half way stage on 19 July. Given the hurdles they face, the GB team has already been written off by pretty much every pundit, which won’t faze the Scots who are acclimatised to operating in low expectations.
“I think you can’t write the squad off and us winning at the weekend has done a lot for GB,” says Robertson. “We spent a lot of time together in the hotel, you make an effort with the English and Welsh to get to know them so there is already camaraderie there. The excitement of the next six weeks because the boys will be desperate at training because that is your only opportunity (to impress). Other teams may sit back a little bit and rest on their laurels.”
And if Scotland can beat the rest of the world at Twickenham then the GB team should be there or thereabouts in Rio.