THE Scottish Sevens squad has been bolstered by the selection of two highly experienced full internationals as the team look to put on a good show on home soil at Scotstoun Stadium this weekend, with Nick De Luca and Richie Vernon being included in the 12-man playing group for the penultimate leg of this year’s HSBC Sevens World Series.
As we approach the end of another largely frustrating campaign, coach Stevie Gemmell is clearly hoping that the inclusion of two players who boast a combined total of 61 caps for Scotland can provide some much- needed impetus in his struggle to convince the wider rugby community that the resources directed towards this sevens programme can be justified beyond this summer’s Commonwealth Games.
Scotland have consistently struggled to make their presence felt among the top tranche of nations in the World Series, and there has been precious little evidence so far in this campaign to suggest that this might change any time soon. They have only managed to qualify for the cup competition once in six outings – but Gemmell remains optimistic about his team’s prospects.
“Bringing in two players of the international quality of Nick [De Luca] and Richie [Vernon] gives me an opportunity to help us continue to strive for improved consistency in the World Series and to look at my options for the Commonwealth Games, particularly with that team announcement approaching in May,” he said. “Nick has a sevens pedigree to his game and Richie comes in from a successful set-up at Glasgow. I look forward to seeing what they can offer.”
Gemmell added that he drew particular encouragement from the way his team fronted up when winning the third tier bowl competition in their last outing. “Our performances on the last day in Hong Kong were three of our best this year. It’s always exciting having the opportunity to play at a home tournament in front of a crowd predominantly on your side. We hope to build on those performances in Hong Kong so we can progress in the World Series and give our support results they can be proud of,” he explained.
While the selection of De Luca reinforces the suspicion that the 30-year-old has played his last game in an Edinburgh jersey before moving to Biarritz this summer (the centre has not featured for the club for over a month), Vernon says he is quietly confident that he can still persuade Gregor Townsend he can play a role in Glasgow’s end-of-season run-in.
“Gregor mentioned that it was a possibility last week but it wasn’t until about 5pm on Sunday evening that he phoned to say he wanted me to play in the sevens this weekend.
“If I’m being honest, I possibly did have slightly mixed emotions about it because Glasgow are on a great run of form at the moment, and they have another huge game against Treviso this weekend which I am now obviously going to miss,” said the 26-year-old, who has earned widespread praise for the way he has adapted from being a back-rower to a centre, after being encouraged to make the switch by SRU director of rugby Scott Johnson.
“But I’m pretty sure this doesn’t rule me out of contention with Glasgow.
“There are hopefully three more weeks to go after this weekend – if we can make it to the play-off final – and Gregor has told me that he will look at my performances this weekend with selection in mind.
“I think Mark Bennett is a classic example of how this could be a really good launch-pad for me leading into these final few weeks of the season. He went across to Hong Kong with the sevens squad last month and performed really well – and he has played brilliantly since coming back to Glasgow. So this could be a really good thing for me,” Vernon added.
Vernon said that he was also enjoying the challenge of adjusting to a game he had not played seriously since 2008.
“I think the mix of this squad could work really well. There are guys like Colin Gregor, Andy Turnbull and Colin Shaw, who have huge amounts of sevens experience; then there are some really exciting youngsters like Chris Dean; and finally you have myself and Nick who are coming into the team for the first time in several years,” he said.
“I understand that the way sevens is played has changed quite a lot since we were last involved, so we are going to have a lot to learn this week, but hopefully Nick and I can also add something to the squad in terms of the way you approach the game generally and how you deal with pressure.
“Stevie Gemmell has said he wants us to be a top-eight team so the target has to be to make it into the cup quarter-finals, then see where we can take it from there.”
Scotland 7s squad:
Scott Riddell, Colin Shaw, Richie Vernon (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Glashan, Colin Gregor (captain), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby), Andrew Turnbull, Michael Maltman, Chris Dean, Scott Wight (Glasgow Warriors), Lee Jones (Glasgow Warriors), James Eddie (Glasgow Warriors).