It was one year ago, on a sunny Sunday morning in May, that I found myself at the bottom of a pile of teammates; a pile drenched in sweat and exhausted to the bone, but a pile utterly euphoric. We had just beaten New Zealand in the quarter-finals of the Twickenham Sevens, and had become the first Scottish team at any level to beat an All Black’s side in Scottish Rugby’s century-and-a-half long history. It was a feat that on a number of occasions that season we had narrowly missed out on, but on that morning – the last chance of the year for the team and of their career for the retiring Scott Wight and Mark Robertson – we finally came good, and from 21 points behind at half time.
The perfect morning turned into the perfect afternoon and finally the perfect day, as we continued our winning form to firstly beat the USA in the semi finals, before beating England in the final in their own back yard to retain the trophy we had won the year previously.
In terms of career highlights for myself, that Sunday sits proudly above all others.
The squad that I had found myself piled under was a squad that had played a lot of Sevens together. That perfect day was the culmination of two years of hard work as a relatively consistent and unchanged squad, from which a number of players have now either retired or moved on.
That team had been born of a new beginning. The Sevens programme had come under reviewas Scottish Rugby made considered decisions on where its resources were best focused. It was decided Scotland would continue to field a Sevens team but the decision was made to back it in a new, more efficient format designed to both compete on the international stage and help players develop their skills in the full format game.
A new team of just seven core Sevens players came together and, supplemented by players from the fifteen-a-side game, we found our feet in the World Series. It didn’t come quickly, but we knew the quality was there. Throughout the season we missed out on cup quarter finals, each time losing by just a couple of points. As frustrating as it was, we knew how close we were and that nothing drastic needed to be changed. We believed in our team and in our style of play and it paid off. At the end of that season we won our first tournament in Twickenham, before going on to have our most successful season to date, culminating last year on that happy Sunday.
This season, only four of the team that lifted the trophy last year will be embarking on our title defence this season. With another “new beginning” starts a new cycle, with a new coaching set up and new players making the step up to International Sevens.
In our first eight tournaments this season, twenty five different players have been named in travelling squads. However, where this time two years ago we were frustrated at not making quarter-finals, it is now it semi-finals that elude our grasp – four times already this season and all slipping away in an exasperatingly close manner.
We are in a new cycle of Scottish Sevens players, and this stage of the cycle I remember well. Everything we are doing is right. The talent of the players is obvious, the standard of the coaching world class. The style of rugby we are playing suits us and we are executing it well – a statistical analysis of our tournaments goes to back this up. But the cup victory we so want to experience again is yet to come.
It is an exciting stage to be in. We have endured the ups and downs of a Sevens Season, gone through the tournaments, the training, the long-haul flights and the hotel room living together, and have come together as a squad. Success sits so close, and whether due to experience or luck, always comes down to that one difference in an all important phase of play going our way. The quality and consistency of the team has built to a point where, like in our last cycle, something is going to click and success will not take long to follow.
And if something is going to click, what better setting than the Twickenham Sevens, the closest we have to a home tournament and home to our double victory. Things will, however, need to click right from the first whistle, with a formidable group made up of some of this season’s top performing sides in New Zealand, Fiji and Argentina.
As a new squad, this year has provided challenges and lessons, it has provided frustrations and accomplishments. With two tournaments left, and drawn in a pool that few would give us a chance in, the opportunity is there for us crop of Scottish Sevens players to start making some special memories of its own. Success waits just around the corner.