Scots' London Sevens win ends Calum MacRae's reign in style

Just two years ago Scotland Sevens coach Calum MacRae was facing the real threat that the nation where the abbreviated game was invented, in his own hometown of Melrose, could abandon the game at the elite international level.

Calum MacRae and his players arrive back at Murrayfield following their victory in the London Sevens. Picture: SNS.
Calum MacRae and his players arrive back at Murrayfield following their victory in the London Sevens. Picture: SNS.

When Scotland lost its hosting place on the world circuit a review process was launched by the SRU to determine whether to maintain a side in the global HSBC series, sparking a period of uncertainty for MacRae and the core group of players who relied on the programme for their livelihoods.

A reprieve came and the coach could reflect with satisfaction yesterday as he and his squad were piped into BT Murrayfield after retaining their London Sevens trophy following a famous victory over hosts England in the final at Twickenham.

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MacRae, who was in charge of his final tournament before moving on to become Edinburgh defence coach next season, also entered the history books as the first coach to guide a Scottish team to victory over powerhouses New Zealand at any level of the game.

For anyone in a dark blue jersey there can’t be any sweeter feeling than beating England on their home patch to lift silverware but, in many ways, it was that quarter-final win over the men in black that was the stand-out achievement of the weekend.

MacRae’s men tasted cup success at the same venue last year, when they beat South Africa in the final, but never before had any Scottish team vanquished a side from the land of the long white cloud since the first international meeting between the nations at Inverleith in 1905.

“I am hugely proud of the work the boys have put in and I think the blocks of work they have done in training consistently through the year has paved the way to the performances we are seeing,” said MacRae yesterday as his players showed off the trophy on the Murrayfield pitch.

In a trying season that has included long-term injuries to almost a quarter of the core group, the Scots have finished the series strongly with a runners-up berth in Paris and glory at Twickenham.

It means they equal their best finish in the standings of seventh and MacRae was oozing pride yesterday as he bowed out from the post in style. All a far cry from those fraught summer months of 2015.

“There was a process where the programme was reviewed,” said the coach. “I sat down with [director of rugby] Scott Johnson and went through where we saw the merits of it being used as a development programme.

“He was very firmly behind that and I think it has got a very strong position within Scottish Rugby.”

Scott and Mark Dodson have made a strong statement to maintain the programme. It is first and foremost here to develop players for the XVs game and expose them to a higher level.”

John Dalziel will take the sevens reins for next season, while veteran exponents of the short game Mark Robertson and Scott Wight also retire in the best possible way. Fittingly, both were named in the team of the London tournament.

For Robertson the win in London marked a glorious farewell season that began with a historic Olympic silver medal as he joined Mark Bennett as the two Scots in the GB team at Rio 2016.

“That was a fairytale,” said the 33-year-old, who added another little bragging right to his Twickenham record when compared to his father Keith, the former Scotland player who was part of that last Calcutta Cup triumph in London back in 1983.

“Yes I’ve tripled it,” said centre/wing Robertson, referring to the back-to-back London Sevens wins and also a victory over England in the pool stage of their home tournament three years ago.

That experience helped the squad deal with the elation of their historic achievement in Sunday’s last-eight classic when the Scots fought back from 21-0 down.

“We learned three years ago when we beat England in front of 82,000 people on the Saturday and got ourselves so high that come the second day we couldn’t get ourselves back up,” said the Melrose man.

“We let our emotions get the better of us. But this time after the Kiwi game we were so excited for five minutes after but we got back right down and said ‘right we are here to win this tournament and defend our title’. By the time we got back into it for that US [semi-final] game we were ready to get back and tear into it.”

Robertson set up skipper Scott Riddell for the winning try in that 12-5 triumph over England.

“I think after last year you got a lot of people saying it’s a flash in the pan sort of thing,” he said. “Teams can beat everybody on a given day but to win it back to back and coming off the back of the final in Paris the previous week, beating the top three teams in the world, it’s a huge achievement for us but it’s something I felt was achievable as we had a lot of potential in the group. But it’s the kind of achievement not many Scottish teams do and we are incredibly proud.”

The best possible place to bow out then.

“I made the decision about three months ago,” said the former Edinburgh pro.

“I was getting to that stage and wanted to finish on my own terms. When I started I was top on the speed scores and now I’m gradually working my way down. It’s a young man’s game.”