John Jeffrey calls for sevens to retain a key role

JOHN Jeffrey finished handing out the silverware at a sun-kissed Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens and declared it vital for Scottish rugby that sevens remains a firm part of the future.

The former Kelso, Scotland and British and Irish Lions flanker, who enjoyed sevens with his club, revealed that it was his first time at the event, having spent previous years elsewhere with Barbarians committee duties. Now an SRU rep on the IRB, he was invited to present the trophies at the conclusion of the HSBC World Sevens Series and warming to a new record crowd of 26,405 for the Murrayfield event (12,235 on Saturday and 14,170 yesterday), which pushed the total attendance at this year's series over 500,000 for the first time, he said sevens had an important role to play in the Scottish game.

"Having heard various reports about this event and the lack of atmosphere and difficulties it has had in such a big stadium," he began, "I have to say I've been surprised with what I've seen this weekend. It's not a huge crowd compared to what Twickenham achieved last weekend, but it's a move back up from the 20,000 or so we dropped to and shows there is an interest there. The atmosphere was excellent, the rugby itself was great and you couldn't ask for a better final. It was a bit like the Heineken Cup where one team seemed out of it at half-time and they came back with an extraordinary finish. It was a good end to a well-run event.

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"It is important for me, as a Scottish rugby supporter, but also as a member of the SRU and IRB, that Scotland is a host union and has core team status for the next three years up to the Commonwealth Games.

"I'm very optimistic about that and while we have to wait and see what the SRU's new strategic plan comes out with, and what it says about sevens, I have no doubts that it has a major role to play for us going forward for several reasons.

"Firstly, we only have two professional teams and that's not going to change anytime soon, so we need something to help bridge the gap for good young players from club and under-20s rugby to the pro game. Sevens is doing that.

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"I remember when I played we saw sevens as a valuable tool for developing skills and fitness for the XVs, and it still serves that purpose now, while also being an end in itself for players who can excel in this stage, and we have a few of them too. But it's also vital that Scotland keeps its status among the leading nations, especially in a game that is going global and being used by the IRB to push rugby into new parts of the world."

Having battled with an ever-changing line-up, Scotland coach Graham Shiel started the process of improving the Scotland squad with weekly Wednesday night sessions this season for club players, and yesterday paid tribute to the likes of Andrew Skeen, Fraser Harkness, Graham Fisken and Scott Riddell who have been mainstays this term. But he is hoping to push that next season by having the professional players identified as being potential sevens caps in alongside them to produce a more settled squad, rather than drafting them in at the death to boost the squad. This weekend underlined the fine line between competing and succeeding in international sevens. The Scottish team, ranked tenth in the world, came within a solitary conversion of matching last year's achievement and claiming a cup quarter-final spot on the last weekend.

Winger Lee Jones, one of the Scottish stars, said: "If you'd told us beforehand that we'd beat Fiji and then beat the USA 45-7 we'd have expected to be in the quarter-finals today, but ultimately our defeat to Samoa let us down."

It summed up the frustration in the Scotland camp as they left themselves needing a 40-point win over the US to pip Fiji and Samoa, former world series champions, and reach a quarter-final against either Australia or South Africa. They came through yesterday's early Bowl rounds well with 26-14 win over Canada, who they lost to last weekend, and 22-7 defeat of Argentina, ranked eighth in the world, to reach the final and it proved a pulsating affair. The Scots faced Kenya for the second week in a row, and despite a valiant comeback that tied the scores 14-14 into injury-time, the Kenyans claimed revenge this week with a last-gasp score. Kenya dominated possession from the first whistle and Humphrey Kayange scored the first try. Lavin Asego finished sublime continuity to score a second try and convert for a 14-0 half-time lead.Fedo began the comeback just over a minute into the second half, Colin Gregor converting, and the Scots pulled the score level when Jones took on the Kenyan defence on halfway, got between two defenders, wriggled free from a grasping hand and then stepped inside the sweeper to score.

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Crucially, Gregor slotted the conversion, but with both teams tiring Scotland could not keep the ball and Kenya produced one last counter deep in injury-time, for Asego to score the winning try.