All Blacks spread the sevens gospel in Glasgow

All Blacks Bryce Heen, left, and Sherwin Stores lead pupils of Merrylee Primary School in the haka. Picture: Steve Welsh
All Blacks Bryce Heen, left, and Sherwin Stores lead pupils of Merrylee Primary School in the haka. Picture: Steve Welsh
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GLASGOW was a culture shock for Sam Dickson when he first came here last year. It wasn’t the language or the people – being of Scottish heritage, the All Blacks Sevens player had no problem with them.

And it wasn’t the weather. He had been warned about that, and in any case you get the odd spot of rain in his native Christchurch too. It was the rugby.

Growing up in New Zealand, Dickson had learned the history of the sport, including the country which hosted the first international match (Scotland) and the country where sevens was invented (Scotland again). He was therefore surprised, on 
arriving here, to find out what the most popular sport was (football, but you knew that).

“I’ve always wanted to come to Scotland to find out more about it,” the 24-year-old said yesterday during a visit to Merrylee Primary School on the south side of the city. “I’m part-Scottish and I’ve always known that rugby was huge in Scotland as it’s the home of the sport.

“I believed it was the No 1 sport and the centre of everything. It’s only been during the last year or so that I’ve heard that football is bigger than rugby and I was a bit shocked about that.”

The training session, organised by All Blacks sponsors AIG and conducted by Dickson and three colleagues, perhaps represented a small chance to rectify that imbalance between the two sports, as dozens of children had the opportunity to learn some basic rugby skills – and to do the haka. In any case, a year on from that first visit, Dickson senses a growing enthusiasm for sevens, thanks in no small part to its inclusion in this summer’s Commonwealth Games.

This weekend’s Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s at Scotstoun – the event that has brought the New Zealanders to the city this week – is the penultimate leg of the IRB Sevens World Series, but it should also be a foretaste for the Commonwealth Games competition at Ibrox. “It’s building towards the Commonwealth Games, and you can sense the atmosphere and you can see things getting ready with the posters up around the city,” Dickson said. “I can see the people here getting into it.

“As a rugby player it’s really good to come to a city like Glasgow and see how interested they are in the sport. Back in New Zealand it’s really the only sport you see kids playing. It’s a huge motivation for us to be on the other side of the world and see so many kids trying it and looking to get involved.

“It inspires us to play better and help them in whatever way we can. That’s why this weekend is a great way for the sport to be showcased in Scotland.

“We’re really looking forward to this weekend and then coming back to Glasgow this summer for the Games. One of the downsides of what we do is that we don’t get much time to have a look around, which is quite disappointing. I would love to have the time to discover the city, but we’re here on business and that’s just the way it is.”

The business in question this weekend is all about building on the seven-point lead New Zealand have on South Africa. The fact the two countries have been drawn in the same pool this weekend will only add to the pressure going into the last two rounds of the series, although, as Dickson explained, pressure comes with the territory for any All Black team no matter the opposition.

“This weekend is a massive one. There is the usual pressure on us to perform, but that’s the nature of it – there’s always that pressure. We try to use that as a motivation.

“We’re filling the boots of past players who have played for the All Black Sevens, who have been amazing players. We try to not look at that as a pressure: we try to take that on to the field and use it as a confidence.”