Scotland Sevens team loses its elite status in Team GB merger

Scotland will no longer compete in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series from next season following a decision to merge with England and Wales to form a Great Britain team.

Scotland players celebrate after their victory over England in the final of the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament at Twickenham in  2017.   (Photo: OLLY GREENWOOD/AFP via Getty Images)
Scotland players celebrate after their victory over England in the final of the World Rugby Sevens Series tournament at Twickenham in 2017. (Photo: OLLY GREENWOOD/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a kick in the teeth for many sevens players in this country and will effectively deny them the chance to play on the elite circuit.

Scotland is the home of sevens rugby with the game initially conceived in Melrose in 1883 by local butchers Ned Haig and David Sanderson as a fund-raising event for the local club.

In recent years the national sevens squad has had a dual purpose, competing on the global circuit and achieving some notable victories, the most memorable of which came at Twickenham, while also providing a development pathway for the 15-a-side game.

Scotland in action against New Zealand during a World Rugby Women's Sevens Series match in Biarritz. (Photo by IROZ GAIZKA / AFP)

With only two men’s pro teams in Scotland, the sevens side has served as an unofficial third pro team in terms of giving players exposure to a professional environment.

Current men’s Scotland internationals Mark Bennett, Darcy Graham, Kyle Rowe, George Horne and Kyle Steyn all benefited from their time in the sevens.

The merger decision is connected to the Olympic Games where Great Britain competes as a single entity in the rugby sevens competition. The Team GB structure for men’s and women’s team will begin this coming season, in preparation for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

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Scotland men's sevens captain Jamie Farndale. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

The Scottish Rugby Union says it will continue to run sevens programmes to develop players and coaches for GB sevens and to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

Jim Mallinder, Scottish Rugby’s director of high performance, said: “Once rugby sevens became an Olympic sport there was increasingly a requirement from World Rugby that Team GB, as the recognised Olympic entity, should also become part of the sevens landscape to align Olympic qualification through the HSBC World Sevens Series.

“We want our players competing at the highest possible level moving forward and I fully expect Scotland to have good representation in the Team GB squads, both for men and women.

“Sevens will continue to play a role in our development pathway and we want to maintain the pipeline of quality players capable of representing both Scotland and Team GB in the future.

“We will continue discussions with World Rugby as to what those future playing opportunities will look like.”

The Scottish, English and Welsh unions said the move to merge and align the team’s future to the Olympic Games had been “ratified and mandated by World Rugby”.

Great Britain’s men won silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics and were fourth in Tokyo last year, while GB women finished fourth on both of those occasions.

Prospects for the men’s and women’s GB squads looked bleak a year before Tokyo, though, amid significant cuts made to British sevens programmes.

Although funding was then obtained ahead of the Olympics via a commercial partnership struck between the RFU, Scottish Rugby, WRU and The National Lottery promotional fund, post-Tokyo uncertainty remained.

The Team GB coaches and playing squads are expected to be confirmed ahead of the World Series men’s opener in Hong Kong in November and women’s launch in Dubai the following month.

Scotland will have men’s and women’s teams competing at the rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Games at Coventry City Stadium later this month.

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