Sevens legend Colin Gregor believes a number of Scotland players have staked early claims for Olympic consideration as rugby’s abbreviated version prepares to make its debut at the Rio Games next summer.
A 12-man Great Britain squad selected from England, Scotland and Wales will travel to Brazil and the Scots enjoyed wins over the other two home nations to win the Bowl at the Cape Town leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series on Sunday.
To knock off England in the final put the icing on the cake. It stands Scotland in good steadColin Gregor
After narrowly failing to make it through to the Cup quarter-finals when they lost 19-14 to eventual runners-up Argentina in the pool stage, Calum MacRae’s side saw off Samoa 26-14 in the Bowl quarter-finals before excellent wins over Wales [29-14] and England [19-0] in the semi-finals and final.
By finishing fourth in last season’s world standings – Scotland were a best-ever seventh – England secured GB’s Olympic qualification and their coach Simon Amor will lead the British team in Rio. It is expected that English players will form the bulk of the squad but Scotland’s most-capped sevens player Gregor, who was forced to retire in the summer with a knee injury, sees no reason why some of his compatriots can’t force their way into the reckoning.
He said: “Lee Jones has been outstanding in these first two tournaments [in Dubai and Cape Town] and shown himself to be a really dangerous finisher. The DHL performance tracker which counts tackles, breaks, offloads and carries had Lee top of the whole Cape Town tournament, which was a great feat.”
Glasgow wing Jones scored in that final win over England, with Hugh Blake and James Johnstone also touching down as skipper Scott Wight lifted the Bowl after losing at the same stage to France in Dubai the previous week.
Gregor won a record 58 caps for the national sevens squad and experienced two Commonwealth Games at Melbourne 2006 and Glasgow 2014. He is sure that the performances of another couple of Scots during the first two events of the circuit will have caught Amor’s eye.
He added: “Scott Riddell has been performing at a high level for the past two or three years and he offers something a bit different, while James Johnstone has continued his good form from last season into this year and, with England’s top centre Marcus Watson joining Newcastle Falcons, it maybe opens up an opportunity there for James.”
Beating England was clearly the standout memory the Scots will take into the next tournament, which is in New Zealand next month, but Gregor feels that continuing their impressive recent record over the Welsh was just as important.
“That is a good habit to be in,” said Gregor. “Psychologically, in that Olympic context, beating Wales regularly has to be good and then to go on and knock off England in the final put the icing on the cake. It stands Scotland in good stead going into the rest of the series in the new year.”
Combined camps have been held in England and Wales, with another planned for Scotland in the new year, and Gregor is sure these will prove beneficial when it comes to integrating a GB squad.
“These camps are really useful on two fronts,” he said. “Firstly they are excellent preparation for the tournaments on the world series and then, obviously, it gives the GB coaches the chance to see all the players and makes the Scottish boys less of an unknown quantity. That has to be good.
“Simon Amor has been really upfront with everyone and said if people are playing well they will be in with a shout. The key for Scotland is to be successful and start making progress in the Cup competition, getting into those top-eight games and proving they can compete with the big boys. That is what will be needed at the Olympics so that is what they have to show.”
After the festive break, the travelling sevens circus rolls on to Wellington on 30-31 January before subsequent stops in Sydney, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and London. Glasgow may have lost its event on the circuit but, after a period of doubt, the SRU has retained its commitment to the sevens squad.
Gregor, 34, who, since retiring, has been kept busy with media punditry on the sevens circuit and Scottish pro team games, coaching at Glasgow Hawks and studying for a masters degree, says the upcoming Olympics has added spice to this year’s sevens circuit.
“Being in the Olympics is massive for the sport,” he said. “I recently represented rugby at an athletes forum in Lausanne and there was a lot of excitement from the other sports and the IOC president about sevens coming into the Games.
“Across most sports, the Olympics represents the highlight and is the pinnacle of an athlete’s career. Getting the chance to compete for an Olympic medal will be an opportunity to savour and, from a personal point of view, it is just disappointing that the injury ended my career a year before. But it’s going to be an amazing in Rio.”