London Scottish remain a rugby enigma despite Melrose Sevens win

It is a club that is very much Scottish rugby’s riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, but enjoyed a glory day in the chilly sunshine at Melrose on Saturday.

London Scottish's 
Fergus Guiry makes a break against Edinburgh Accies in the Melrose final. Picture:

 Neil Hanna
London Scottish's Fergus Guiry makes a break against Edinburgh Accies in the Melrose final. Picture: Neil Hanna

London Scottish, after a 30-year absence from the abbreviated game’s defining tournament, lifted the Ladies Cup for the first time in 54 years and their third overall following the wins of 1962 and 1965.

A member of both the [English] Rugby Football Union and the SRU, the Exiles outfit remains one of the great unsolved puzzles of Scottish rugby and Saturday’s triumph, when they beat Edinburgh Accies in the 136th final of the Melrose Sevens, continued the theme.

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While their first team were beating Cornish Pirates 26-22 in the wonderfully English-named Greene King IPA Championship to solidify their mid-table position, 480 miles north a Celtic fringe were adding a fresh layer of history to the club.

The victorious London Scottish squad with the trophy. Picture: Neil Hanna.

The south-east of Scotland may be this nation’s rugby heartland but even its famous Border clubs, and the FPs of the Scottish capital, can’t compete with the island’s Big Smoke when it comes to churning out internationalists.

From its founding in 1878, the now Richmond-based club has offered a rugby home to many a kilted Dick Whittington who has wound his way to the metropolis.

How Scotland can fully utilise the asset has remained elusive, made more problematic by the RFU’s not unreasonable policy of providing funding to clubs based on how many England-qualified players they field, an income stream Murrayfield can’t match to bring them into the Guinness Pro14 orbit as a third fully Scottish pro team.

Within those parameters the SRU have, though, in recent years looked to maximise the link and use London Scottish as a way for emerging players blocked by the lack of opportunities here.

Former Scotland Sevens captain Scott Riddell had never turned out for London Scottish in his indefatigable puff but the 33-year-old hooker, with a national record of 73 appearances on the world sevens series circuit, guesting for the guests who weren’t technically guests, was instrumental in a golden afternoon for the Exiles.

They were the stand-out team all day, skippered by Scotland Sevens player Fraser Lyle and including Scots like Ben Robbins and Josh Henderson, who are on loan at London Scottish, with the rest of the squad filled by England Sevens academy prospects.

The Exiles stormed past Heriot’s, Stellenbosch University and Jed-Forest before overcoming a spirited fight from an excellent Edinburgh Accies unit in the final.

Accies had to play an extra round compared with their final opposition and also had the tricky proposition of playing in that draining second semi-final.

To add to all of that, injuries reduced them to just six players as the final wore on.

Scottish, coached by Dave Cherry, roared to a seemingly impregnable lead but, led by player of the tournament Richard Mill, Accies rallied admirably before losing out 29-12 in the final.

Derek White, inset, one of three London Scots who formed part of the legendary 1990 Grand Slam team along with Gavin Hastings and Paul Burnell, was acting as team manager of the Exiles and beaming with pride as he clutched the same Ladies Cup he got his hands on 38 years ago while playing for Gala.

The former No 8 from Haddington, who played 41 Tests for Scotland and one for the British and Irish Lions in 1989, said: “Paul Burnell our president usually comes to these things but he couldn’t make it this weekend so asked me to deputise.

“I have a little bit of experience of Melrose Sevens so I was delighted to come along. I’m over the moon. It was a fantastic performance by the boys.”

It may have been 30 years since their last appearance at The Greenyards and 54 since their last win, but London Scottish have always had a proud sevens heritage with multiple wins in the Middlesex and Rosslyn Park floodlit events.

“We stressed to the boys before this just how important and prestigious Melrose is and they took that to heart,” said the 61-year-old.

“The first time I came here was in 1981 when we [Gala] beat Kelso in the final and I came back a few times never to do it again.

“It’s fantastic to be here. We were fantastic in all the matches.

“Accies were stunning all the way through too but I think just got a bit tired, understandably, in that last seven minutes.

“I think there might be a little celebration tonight.”

Before the final, Scotland’s Megan Gaffney starred as Edinburgh University beat Durham University 19-5 in a women’s match, scoring two tries, with Nicola Howatt also touching down.