Kelly’s heroes take the glory at Melrose

Historically speaking, raiders hailed from just across the English border but, in their first appearance at the competition, the London-based English champions Saracens made a lightning raid on the Melrose Sevens and rode off with the Ladies Cup. They were coached by the former Melrose breakaway Kelly Brown who, if he was feeling any guilt at this change of allegiance, was hiding it pretty effectively behind a broad grin after the final whistle.

“It was quite emotional standing there watching the guys go up there to collect the cup,” said Brown. “I never won the Melrose Sevens as a player, so to win it as a coach – well, I was here.

“Winning at Melrose is huge. First of all it is a chance to play in front of a big crowd. It is the oldest Sevens tournament in the world and they [the Saracens players] appreciate the historic significance of that. I know they were all very excited about it and it’s even better that we managed to win it.”

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Despite an English winner, several Scottish teams shone a lot more brightly than the sun managed on a bitterly cold afternoon in which the guest sides disappointed with one obvious exception. Heriot’s were unlucky to meet Saracens in the second round and even then they could have sent the match into extra time had a last-minute conversion from the right-hand touchline found its mark.

Hawks looked mightily impressive even without Craig Gossman, who suffered a painful knee injury early on in proceedings. His brother Kerr steps like an islander and runs like the wind and he was desperately unlucky not to claim a penalty try to send his side through to the semi-final at the expense of Jed after being the victim of a trip that everybody in the ground witnessed bar the man with the whistle.

But Aberdeen Grammar, not hitherto noted for their excellence or even much interest at the short game, went one better when reaching the semi-final in the bottom half of the draw. They were pushing for the winner against Saracens when, as so often happens, the Londoners broke out and scored at the other end of the field in the last play of the game.

The top half of the draw pitted two Borders clubs in cup holders Melrose and Jed-Forest, with the visitors looking the liveliest. Perhaps Rose have spent the last week celebrating their back-to-back league titles because they were a little lethargic in their play and a little lateral in their running. Neither of their big men, Graeme Dodds and John Dalziel, were prepared to punch holes to create space for their quick men, although the latter at least has the cast-iron excuse that this was his first rugby in three months after breaking his collarbone.

Jed had ridden their luck all afternoon, squeezing past County and Hawks, but they came good in the semi-final against their fierce rivals and played with intelligence and spirit. After scoring two tries in the first half, Jed kept their foot on the Melrose throat, rarely allowing the home team out of their own half.

The final was a little different as Saracens kicked into top gear, fielding the likes of Fijian international Kameli Ratuvou and Joe Maddock, a New Zealand Maori. To a cacophony of noise, Jed raced into an early lead thanks to a brace of tries from Gregor Young but the joy was short-lived. Sarries scored three before half-time and another five after the break to finish 50-21 winners. At least the Jed supporters were able to celebrate the last try of the afternoon when Ross Goodfellow touched down for the losers, who were happy enough with their first appearance in a Melrose final for almost 20 years.

“We thought we might just cause an upset after the first few minutes,” said Young. “We were really pumped up for the challenge but there were some pretty big boys out there. We pride ourselves on our fitness and we’ve worked hard at it, but, in the end, the professional conditioning paid off.”

With Ian Chisholm pulling the strings and Andrew Nagle hustling and bustling about the field, Young and his twin brother Lewis bring plenty of pace to the Jed seven. Are they identical twins? Well, almost.

“I’ll have to admit that Lewis is just a half a yard quicker than I am,” Gregor said, “but don’t tell him I said so.

“We are going for the Kings of the Sevens competition this year. It’s one of our targets, so to get to the final here was good after winning at Gala last weekend. At least we were able to get one over Melrose in that semi-final, not that the crowd were happy about it.”

In truth, the large crowd got behind Jed in the final but it was never going to be enough to halt the full-time professionals from London.