Melrose Sevens: Plenty of emotion expected in the Borderers - full draw and schedule of play
World Sevens Series stars like Cecil Afrika, Collins Injera and Max McFarland are set to light up the Melrose Sevens today, but there will be one former winner of the event who will be on everyone’s minds at The Greenyards.
It is a few days now since the passing of Tom Smith, one of Scottish rugby’s greatest ever players, was announced aged 50, but many involved in the game in this country are still numbed by the news.
The loosehead prop, of course, made a name for himself in the XVs game, earning 61 caps for Scotland, playing in two World Cups and going on two British & Irish Lions tours when he played six consecutive Test matches in 1997 and 2001.
However, sevens – and in particular the famous Melrose event – played a big part in his journey to the big time.
It was while playing for Edinburgh-based club Watsonians at the Melrose Sevens in 1995 that coaching guru Jim Telfer first spotted Smith and thought he could go on to great things.
Twelve months later, Smith would win the same sevens tournament with Watsonians in a squad that included others who had, or went on to earn full Scotland XVs caps, in the shape of Scott Hastings, Cammy Mather, Duncan Hodge and Grant McKelvey.
He toured New Zealand with Scotland that summer and the rest, they say, is history.
Given his standing in the game in Scotland and further afield and the fact that he collected a winner’s medal in the Borders 26 years ago, Smith’s death will be marked before the final later on.
Melrose president Douglas Brown said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom’s family at this incredibly sad time.
“He was a huge part of the rugby family and we will be paying tribute to this great man before the final at this year’s Melrose Sevens.”
On the pitch it promises to be a fascinating tournament.
It has not been held since 2019 because of the pandemic and all 26 teams involved will believe they have a chance to lift the trophy come 8pm this evening.
The Scottish club sides seem to, by and large, be using the opportunity to blood young players and what a stage for them to play on.
The Melrose squad includes famous names in the shape of Chalmers and Weir - Robbie and Hamish, the sons of Craig and Doddie respectively involved - and Bert Grigg, a member of the coaching staff, is looking forward to it.
“For a few of the boys this is their first taste of playing in the Melrose Sevens and they can’t wait,” Grigg said.
“We have trained well and are looking forward to it while myself and fellow coaches Bruce Ruthven and Graeme Dodds are looking forward to seeing how this squad gels.”
Of the invited sides, select outfit Samurai will look to use the pace of Scotland Sevens cap McFarland, while Belgium, holders London Scottish, the British Army, Seventise from France and Fijians Lonaiviti are all in the draw.
But select side the Co-Optimists look to be the favourites.
The last time the Co-Ops did that was in 1993 when the likes of Doddie Weir and Gregor Townsend were involved - and now they have South African star Afrika, Kenyan flyer Injera ex-English XVs cap Tom Varndell, Edinburgh Rugby speedster Freddie Owsley and his club team mates James Johnstone and Jack Blain and others involved.
Afrika, 34, retired from the top end of the game in 2020, but won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and went to the Olympics in Rio in 2016.
“In terms of the Melrose Sevens, I have heard all about the history and I know that sevens started in Scotland, so I am blessed to be here,” Afrika said.
“One of my good friends Tythan Adams also has a lot of good things to say about the tournament because he played well here in 2017, so hopefully I can follow in his footsteps.
“We will give it our best shot, play with a smile on our faces and try and entertain the spectators.”
The first tie is at 10.50am with the final at 7.30pm.
As well as the main tournament there will a fund-raising match for Ukraine featuring some legends of yesteryear at 12.30pm and a women’s exhibition match at 7.10pm between the Delta Drone TUKS and Rugby People.
The event will be broadcast worldwide on the Scottish Rugby website.
First round: Glasgow Hawks v Musselburgh (10.50am), Stirling County v Hawick (11.10am), Boroughmuir v Currie Chieftains (11.30am), Selkirk v Ayr (11.50am), Kelso v Co-Optimists (12.10pm), Samurai v Heriot’s (12.50pm), GHA v Gala (1.10pm), Edinburgh Accies v Jed-Forest (1.30pm), Peebles v Aberdeen Grammar (1.50pm), Marr v Watsonians (2.10pm).
Second round: Glasgow Hawks or Musselburgh v Seventise (2.30pm), Stirling County or Hawick v British Army (2.50pm), Boroughmuir or Currie Chieftains v Lomaiviti (3.10pm), Selkirk or Ayr v Kelso or Co-Optimists (3.30pm), Samurai or Heriot’s v GHA or Gala (3.50pm), Edinburgh Accies or Jed-Forest v London Scottish (4.10pm), Peebles or Aberdeen Grammar v Melrose (4.30pm), Marr or Watsonians v Belgium (4.50pm).