KEEPING the Scottish Cup was the big story for many clubs at the SRU's agm this year, but the move to support Scottish sevens tournaments, although a little more low-key, was also significant and has been particularly well received in the Borders.
In recent years Borders clubs have found themselves at odds with others, battling to convince rivals across the country that sevens tournaments such as that at Kelso this afternoon were not only vital pillars of funding for their clubs, but are also worthwhile for those without their own tournaments.
The SRU's decision to switch the cup final to a Sunday next year, avoiding a clash with Jed Sevens, the final tournament of the season, and encourage clubs to avoid conflict with spring tournaments underlined the shift to working more in tandem with Borders clubs, perhaps also with a nod to Scotland's form on the IRB world stage.
There have also been calls in some quarters for clubs to now forget about sevens at this time of the season and allow all players to focus on preparations for the 15s season, but Kelso's sevens coach Adam Roxburgh, the Scotland cap and one of the great showmen of the abbreviated game, believes the tournaments at Kelso and Selkirk next week – Twickenham also today hosts the popular Middlesex Sevens – provide a great service to the Scottish game.
He said: "It is good to see the SRU and clubs becoming more accommodating to sevens in the spring, but I think it would be overload if all sevens moved to the end of the season. Having ten tournaments in the Borders alone could turn people off sevens, and affect crowds.
"I also feel that a tournament like ours and Selkirk's at the start of the season is a great way to introduce people – players, coaches and supporters – to a new rugby season. There is a great atmosphere off the park, and on it it provides a great indication of where players' fitness and skill levels are, and what coaches maybe need to work on before the 15s season starts."
Kelso launch the 'Kings of the Borders' circuit at Poynder Park this afternoon with Roxburgh working with another local legend in Graeme Cowe to inspire the next generation of Kelso sevens talent. Last year's tournament proved to be the launchpad for Selkirk to go on and secure promotion back to Division One and claim the 'Kings of the Sevens' crown, having accumulated most points from the Borders' ten-tournament circuit.
Roxburgh will coach the Kelso 2nds this season, two other former sevens stars Eric Paxton and Michael Minto remaining in charge of the 1st XV, but he is hoping Kelso players can take some inspiration from their Borders rivals.
"It always means a lot to the Kelso team to perform well and win their own tournament as it does for all home sides, really, but it would be nice to think this weekend could give us the kind of spark that it gave Selkirk last season.
"We haven't lost anyone bar Richard Minto, who has gone to Watsonians – he is living and working in Edinburgh now and I think he always wanted a crack at Division One rugby.
"But I'm optimistic about the season for Kelso. I think some people feel Division One is now beyond the club, but seeing Selkirk promoted has given other teams hope. We have the nucleus of last year's side, but are bigger and fitter and the sevens will help take some of our young talents on another step.
"We have concentrated on 15s until this week, but playing in front of your own crowd, where there is no hiding place if you make mistakes, will get the blood going for the Kelso guys, and a good tournament could provide the bit of extra confidence they need this year going into the Division Two championship."
The route to a Kelso final is never easy and the hosts face a tricky tie with Hawick YM first after Gala have opened against Watsonians – whose first-team squad is touring England – and Jed-Forest and Edinburgh Accies will hope to have edged into the second round. Selkirk, Melrose, Peebles and Hawick are the first-round favourites in the bottom half, but few can be discounted in what will be for many an unpredictable first competitive outing of the season.
WOLSELEY UK BUILD CENTER KELSO SEVENS (at Poynder Park today, first tie 1.30pm): Gala v Watsonians, Jed-Forest v Langholm, Edinburgh Academicals v Stewart's Melville FP, Kelso v Hawick YM, Haddington v Selkirk, Melrose v Berwick, Hamilton v Peebles, Hawick v Earlston.