Rugby: Shiel upbeat over starter for sevens

Graham SHIEL is determined a stint as Scotland sevens coach will eventually put him on the road to a similar role in the maelstrom of Heineken Cup and Celtic League rugby.

While many believe the abbreviated game, which has a major stage with the concluding leg of the Emirates IRB grand prix circuit taking place at Murrayfield this weekend, is the ideal way of fast-tracking players the 40-year-old former Scotland internationalist insists the same applies to coaches.

"Ultimately I'd like to be in a position where professional coaching is an option for me somewhere down the line when I feel I merit it and have learned enough about it to stand on my own two feet and to think I can apply for posts and do myself justice," says the 18 times capped Shiel.

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"At the moment it is about getting good experience and the rate the sevens (tournaments) come at you really accelerates development because of the way things happen in such a unique environment.

"Learning from other nations is a good place to be?.?.?.?you learn a lot very quickly."

Others, like Rob Moffat, have used the sevens post as a springboard to a professional coaching career and although now Edinburgh-based and a former Capital team captain there is absolutely no doubt that Shiel has the best of rugby pedigrees having learned the game in the hotbed that is Melrose, particularly where sevens is concerned since that concept was invented in the Borders town.

Part of a Melrose team that won four Scottish club championships in five years and a total of six in eight years between 1990 and 1997 it is significant that others from this generation of players continue to make their mark in coaching.

For example, Craig Chalmers has just steered Melrose to another Scottish title and a couple of wins in tough British and Irish Cup ties while south of the Border Bryan Redpath and Carl Hogg have recently extended their coaching contracts at Aviva Premiership cracks, Gloucester.

Shiel is quick to acknowledge guidance from Melrose coaching legends Jim Telfer and Rob Moffat as well as others who cultivated an enthusiasm and talent now bearing fruit nationwide in coaching terms.

"We were brought through a good system at Melrose with many powerful people involved in our rugby schooling.

"That forms you and the influence of the great people involved there shaped our will and desire to remain in the game and want to do something.

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"You want to put something back and be successful, a different context from when you were playing but nevertheless you want to remain involved."As well as Jim Telfer there were others such as Brian Chalmers, Frank Laidlaw, Les Allan, Jim Frater, Jim Tait - all helped us growing up as players along with the likes of Don Ledingham, Rob Moffat and Bill Noble."

And Shiel, who gave up employment in the construction industry a few years ago to become an SRU development officer followed by a spell helping run the national rugby academy, added: "We probably had the best opportunities and best support to come through and when I finished playing professionally a development role coupled with player/coach at Stewart's/Melville put me on a new career path.

"Once again I'm getting the chance to do something significant and challenging but it all started for me with sevens.

"At Melrose you grow up and are introduced to rugby through that format and being Melrose it is done in a competitive structure which is hugely exciting for a youngster.

"It's a great development tool for children through having space and the ball in hand a lot more and when you reach the international scene, especially at Murrayfield, that excitement and opportunity for enjoyment is still there."

Shiel burst on to the Test scene when he came off the bench to notch a debut try which helped Scotland win a key world cup sectional tie against Ireland in 1991 at Murrayfield and he sees coaching a team there for the first time as comparable.

"The chance to play on Murrayfield is something every player aspires to and it is similar in coaching - a huge honour.

"That is especially the case when there is an opportunity this weekend to see subtle changes between the styles of the competing nations. That makes for a fantastic spectacle," says the man who, as well as playing in the 1995 world cup was added to the '99 squad as replacement for the injured John Leslie, though didn't play.

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"It's been a tough season," he said before Scotland won the Bowl tournament at Twickenham on Sunday, "but I do enjoy working with the squad we have at the moment and hopefully moving it forward."