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Scotsman Melrose Sevens Review

"We have not travelled thousands of miles just to enjoy the day. We are here to win," said skipper Alshaun Bock. Many will remember the South African flyer who scored six tries in guiding his side to last year's success, pipping Melrose in the semi-finals and then overcoming the University of Johannesburg 35-26 in a stunning 2010 final.

Five of the winning team have returned this time, notably Bock, playmaker Jandre du Plessis, Terry Jacobs and centre/wing Jeffrey Williams, who will feature as one of the forwards today. They have added some younger players and more experience with former Stormers wing Egan Seconds, who played 91 times for Western Province and 30 Super 12 games, and former Springbok sevens and U21 cap Benny Adams.

Bock, now 27, and who played for South Africa's sevens team when just 19, said: "It is good to be back because Melrose Sevens is very special and it is an honour to be allowed to defend the title.

"I think we won it pretty easily last year, but we expect it to be a lot tougher to do it again because everyone will be coming for us as the champions. I have told the boys just to worry about the first tie (they face the winners of Biggar v Stewart's Melville] and take each round as it comes."

The South Africans were involved in a touch of controversy in last year's tournament when a try that Fraser Thomson, the Melrose wing, thought he had scored was ruled out. The Gala touch judge that pointed out to the referee that the ball had not been grounded suffered abuse from Melrose supporters, but du Plessis has brought with him a blow-up photograph which shows his arm clearly underneath Thomson's holding the ball off the ground.

"It's for a laugh," said the playmaker, with a broad grin, as he rolled it back up. "Maybe I shouldn't show it to people!

"But some people said that we cheated, that they scored and should have gone to the final, but this shows that I was underneath him and it wasn't a try.

It is great to be here in Melrose, but we are here to win again, hopefully with no controversy this time."

There have been a few southern hemisphere final battles at the Greenyards, but while there is a Kiwi involvement again this year, Waikato have been drawn in the same half as Hamilton and so would meet in the last four if they reached that far.

Waikato are taking the tournament as seriously as the South African guests. The Waikato team is not a club side, but drawn from clubs in the Waikato area of New Zealand's North Island. They were the New Zealand Sevens Champions last year and five of that squad are in Scotland this weekend.

Thankfully, perhaps, for today's opposition, the squad are without a core of the 2010 talent, notably Declan O'Donnell, Tim Mikkelson, Frank Halai and Rory Grice, who are now starring for New Zealand in the IRB World Series, Brumbies signing Henry Speight and Dominiko Waqaniburotu, who captained Fiji at XVs last year.

The team is a good one, however, with Johnny Malo, Benji Oleson and Jordan Smiler just missing out on the final New Zealand sevens squad, and back-rower Smiler having played full XVs NPC rugby for Waikato. However, unlike Hamilton, who are sponsored by Motorite Insurance, the Waikato players have had to raise nearly £20,000 to fund their trip. Their involvement comes, like many guests sides at Melrose, through links from the past.

Waikato are coached by David Fox, who played for Melrose 2nd XV from 1991-94, after arriving in Scotland on a three-month tour of the northern hemisphere and deciding to stay.

Fox explained: "I came to Melrose because two Melrose players, Bryan Redpath and Derek Bain, had come to my club Te Awamutu before that, and I loved it here.

"I married a Scottish girl who lived here and our daughter Amy, who is now 17, was born across there in the Borders General Hospital, so we're having a great reunion this weekend with old friends.

"My wife Elaine and Amy have brought some cow bells from home, so if you hear the cow bells that'll be them, hopefully ringing out for some Waikato tries!"

He added: "The boys are really looking forward to this. We've had to work hard for the trip because it's not paid for, so the boys have been involved in all sorts of fundraising.

"We arrived on Monday and have been brilliantly looked after. The boys are being hosted and we have a great man in Mike Bleasdale, who finds nothing too much trouble, and it just makes for a unique experience for the guys.

"Of course, the focus now is switching on to the rugby, because New Zealanders only ever play anything to win. We're not on until after 3pm, so we're fixing up a decent tie to get the boys going earlier on and make sure we're ready for the first tie."

Cohen Masson, who is a student at Waikato University, added: "It's great for the players to be here.

Everyone knows about the Melrose Sevens and it will be a great experience to play in it."

The other guest side is the newly-launched Hong Kong Scottish, which also has a local connection through former Melrose player David Whiteford. The 25-year-old hails from Nigg, near Inverness, and played for Peebles before spending five years at the Greenyards.

"It's great to be back," he said. "Our team has come out of the Nomads team in Hong Kong and London Scottish and everyone except one player is Scottish-qualified, and that player is 'Angus' Leung, so there is a lot of excitement at being involved in Melrose Sevens.

"I was fortunate to play in two finals when I was here, but never won, so the target first of all is to reach the semi-finals where we could meet Melrose, and beat them, though we know it will be tough.

"We only arrived at Melrose today (11am yesterday], trained at 11.30am and we're away back on Monday so it's a short stop. We're used to not sleeping very much in the fast pace of life in Hong Kong, but if we reach the final I think it will be about 1am our time, so we might be a bit sleepy by then."

Other familiar faces are Ally MacLay, the former Glasgow Hawks player, and Scotland sevens cap David Tait, with former England sevens player Joe Shaw now the HK Scottish coach.

The 128th Melrose Sevens has enough talent across the sides, however, to ensure plenty of Scottish interest, particularly with the favourites Hamilton and Waikato kept together in the bottom half of the draw and so opening up a path to the final in the top half.

Only a few professionals have been released, according to their draft clubs at the start of the season, Edinburgh's Stuart McInally joining former teammates in a strong Watsonians side boasting seasoned sevens stars in Mike Ker, Andrew Skeen, Dougie Brown and Jamie Blackwood, while Currie and Glasgow Hawks have also named top-quality sides.

Bidding for a first triumph since the 1997-98 double, Melrose field a team bristling with experience while Hawick - who face Gala first-up and then Melrose if they win - have Scotland sevens cap Graham Hogg alongside his skilful brother Stuart, now at Glasgow, at the heart of an exciting line-up. Falkirk make their debut this afternoon, the invitation reward for their recent drive up through the leagues.

After backing the Armed Forces last season, Melrose also turn the spotlight today on the 100th anniversary of the Macmillan Cancer Charity. Mike Dalgetty, the Melrose RFC President, commented: "We are delighted to be able to help a wonderful charity and we hope that people give generously.

"I am really looking forward to the tournament now.

As usual, it has taken a lot of organising by a lot of people, and it's pretty hectic, but research has told us that the tournament, with the popular Vets event as well, brings in around £2m to the local economy, so this is so much more than a rugby tournament now.

"And when you read Syd Millar's comments (in yesterday's Scotsman], you realise the significance of sevens worldwide now.

"When Ned Haig and his cohorts sat in the Kings Arms and came up with this wonderful idea, little did they know that one day it would reach the status of an Olympic sport."

QUBE GB Melrose Sevens (first tie 11.30am)

First round: Dundee v Watsonians, Boroughmuir v West of Scotland, Stirling County v Peebles, Hawick v Gala, Glasgow Hawks v Aberdeen GSFP, Currie v Falkirk, Langholm v Edinburgh Accies, Biggar v Stewart's Melville.

Second round: (Winners of Dundee v Watsonians) v Jed-Forest, (Boroughmuir v West of Scotland) v Hong Kong Scottish, (Stirling County v Peebles) v Selkirk, (Hawick v Gala) v Melrose, (Glasgow Hawks v Aberdeen GSFP) v Kelso, (Currie v Falkirk) v Waikato, (Langholm v Edinburgh Accies) v Heriot's, (Biggar v Stewart's Melville) v Hamilton (SA).

This article was posted on 9-Apr-2011, 06:47 by Hugh Barrow.

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