Young guns fire Harlequins to victory at Melrose Sevens

WWW.IANGEORGESONPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK'Picture: Melrose 7s'Harlequins: S Aspland-Robinson'Melrose: S Pecqueur
WWW.IANGEORGESONPHOTOGRAPHY.CO.UK'Picture: Melrose 7s'Harlequins: S Aspland-Robinson'Melrose: S Pecqueur
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It may not be the Melrose Sevens of the past, when the contemporary stars strutted their stuff, but that has been the case for a while and just needs to be accepted.

In glorious sunshine on Saturday, a big and enthusiastic crowd were treated to a richly entertaining day of sport and worthy winners in the shape of Harlequins, who won the trophy for a second time in their history.

Harlequins captain Charlie Walker with the trophy. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

Harlequins captain Charlie Walker with the trophy. Picture: Ian Georgeson.

The famous London club last won the Ladies Cup in 1987, when they again beat hosts Melrose in the final, and, three years later, they returned to the Greenyards with Will Carling, then one of the most famous or, if you were Scottish, infamous players in the world.

On Saturday, they were led by a 24-year-old called Charlie Walker, who may not have the profile of a Campese or Serevi, but boy was he good to watch as he guided his young squad of academy prospects with guile and elan to the final and an eventual 31-19 win over the hosts in a competitive final.

It was the sixth successive triumph for a professional guest team but, for Melrose to maintain the profile it desires, it is important that the spice of invited guests remains part of the mix.

The key is getting the blend right and not having too lopsided a tournament and, on Saturday, the balance was about right. Melrose, who hit back from an early deficit to turn over the Co-Optimists in their semi-final thanks to an electric double from Austin Lockington, were in with a shout in that final up until the last play, when the day’s stand-out performer Walker fittingly ran in the clinching try.

Who knows, perhaps if Melrose had played the first semi-final rather than the second, they might have had the gas to pull off a first home win since 2011, but there were few complaints about the classy Quins side emerging triumphant.

The feeling surely was that, even if we weren’t witnessing current Test stars, then there certainly might have been a few future ones in that bunch of players.

Walker, a former England Under-20 cap, said: “It was a great experience to play in this atmosphere, with the beautiful scenery in the backdrop and the history of it being the home of sevens. A really great day.

“We [Harlequins] had a first team game at Wembley today and a second-team game on Monday. This was a chance for the boys left over to have a bit of rugby and we seized it. They are all academy boys apart from myself and Luc Jones.

“It feels a bit strange being the oldest man in the team at 24, but I was proud to lead them and get the victory. Being named player of the tournament was the icing on the cake.”

The Quins squad were brought north by academy manager Tony Diprose, the former England No 8, and their South African academy coach Warren Abrahams, who came to Melrose over a decade ago with Stellenbosch University but didn’t get on the field due to injury.

Abrahams, who also works with the England Sevens set-up, certainly believes there are big futures ahead for his talented charges and said: “They’re a great bunch of boys. Most of these guys are in our academy. We’ve got one still at school – Max Coyle –and he’ll join us next year, so this is a really big tournament for them to show their potential in front of a big and enthusiastic crowd. Charlie Walker is the oldest guy at 24 so you can see that it is a very young group, and you are bound to see some these names again in the future.”

Melrose coach Rob Chrystie was proud of the efforts of his team and now switches his focus to Saturday’s BT Premiership final against Ayr back at the Greenyards.

“I’m gutted that we didn’t get over the line. We knew we’d have a chance, but it didn’t quite happen,” said the coach.

“In relation to the effort, the guts and desire, I’m really proud. We got better as the tournament went on and it was a great final.

“I think we just about matched them in every department. It was just tight margins in the end but full credit to Harlequins. What a good side they are.”