Melrose Sevens: Saracens take up offer to fill Bay of Plenty gap

PREMIERSHIP champions Saracens have taken up a late offer to guest at the 2012 Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens.

The Borders hosts were left one club short last week when a sponsorship deal to bring Bay of Plenty across from New Zealand fell down, but underlining the terrific worldwide standing the tournament still holds The Scotsman understands that within hours of an SOS being sent out to contacts across the UK several clubs came back to register an interest in replacing the Kiwis on Saturday week.

The first was Saracens, through their back row and former Melrose player Kelly Brown. Sarries, who set a new world record of over 83,000 supporters for a club match in their defeat to Harlequins at Wembley at the weekend, are currently second in the Premiership, six points off Quins. They are still odds-on to reach the Premiership play-offs in the battle to retain their crown, and this Sunday host Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

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However, the club has was delighted to receive an invitation to take part in Melrose Sevens on 14 April and according to Brown snapped up the chance to send a squad of young talent to the Greenyards for the first time.

He said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the Saracens players to be involved in one of the most prestigious sevens tournaments in the world.

“We’re really looking forward to making the trip to Melrose and entering what I am sure will be a very fiercely contested event. Sevens rugby is a fantastic and fast flowing game and I know the guys who will be taking part can’t wait.”

Melrose used to sponsor guests teams, but the tournament does not attract the same levels of sponsorship it did in the 1980s and 1990s, so despite the fact that 2012 ticket sales are already up on previous years and a 10,000-plus crowd seems certain again, like all clubs it is having to work even harder to attract investment. New Zealand sides have long been a popular attraction at the event but the club accepted the late withdrawal as “a reflection of the global economic situation at present”.

It may have been different had they not been able to find another guests side at such late notice, but that was merely a fleeting concern with former Melrose players now involved at leading clubs around the world. Brown will attend as Saracens non-playing manager as he is still recovering from the serious leg injury that ruled him out of the RBS Six Nations Championship, and first shot at captaining Scotland .

John Reed, the Melrose RFC President, commented: “We are disappointed that Bay of Plenty will not be present but delighted that Saracens have agreed to take part. It illustrates well the standing of Melrose Sevens that a club of Saracens standard are so keen to participate.

“Within an hour of discussing the matter at our Sevens meeting on Thursday evening we had agreement in principal from Saracens and we are very grateful to Kelly Brown for his involvement. This will not affect the draw as Saracens will slot into the spot vacated by Bay of Plenty .”

They will, therefore, meet the winners of the last of the first round ties, between Langholm and Heriot’s, with Edinburgh Accies, Singapore and London Scottish the other seeded sides in the bottom half and Jed-Forest, Hong Kong Scottish, Selkirk and Melrose the seeds in the top half. The seeding at Melrose is determined by guest status, returning champions and the ‘Kings of the Sevens’ standings in 2011, with Glasgow clubs Whitecraigs and Hamilton invited this year as they were the top two sides in Premier Two, outside the Border clubs already involved, at the time last year when the invitations were issued.

2012 Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens

Saturday 14 April

First round: Currie v Stirling County, Glasgow Hawks v Boroughmuir, Watsonians v Hamilton, Dundee v Whitecraigs, Stewart’s Melville v Peebles, Aberdeen v Hawick, Kelso v Gala, Langholm v Heriot’s.

Second round: Currie/Stirling County v Jed-Forest, Glasgow Hawks/Boroughmuir v Hong Kong Scottish, Watsonians/Hamilton v Selkirk, Dundee/Whitecraigs v Melrose, Stewart’s Melville/Peebles v London Scottish, Aberdeen/Hawick v Singapore, Kelso/Gala v Edinburgh Accies, Langholm/Heriot’s v Saracens.