SEVENS heaven is set to hit the Borders this weekend with 16 teams ready to set out their stall in Border rugby’s abbreviated showpiece.
The 2011 BSPC Kings of the Sevens rugby tournament will kick off at Netherdale on Sunday and with all 10 events being played in the space of seven weeks it is sure to be a scintillating series.
This year sees the Selkirk and Kelso tournaments moved from their traditional late summertime slot to create a sevens extravaganza featuring matches every weekend from the start of April through to the championship finale at Jedburgh on May 14.
Scott Wight, captain of 2010 champions Melrose, lent his support to launch the tournament at Gala’s ground this week, his team keen to retain the title in what is predicted to be an exceptional closely-contested series.
He told TheSouthern: “We look forward to the Kings of the Sevens as it’s always a nice finish to the season. It’s going to be hard for us to go to all the tournaments with 15s games left, but we will be at as many as possible to try to retain the title. We look forward to the challenge, but realise it will be tough.”
Border League secretary John Thorburn also backed the new format.
He said: “The new scheduling means we can present a fabulous showcase of the finest sevens rugby on a week-by-week basis. Our aim is to attract even more rugby fans to the Kings tournament, whether they come to watch just one event or all 10.
“The Borders is the home of rugby sevens and while Melrose remains the most high-profile event, this tournament provides an array of opportunities to enjoy the fast-paced action that makes rugby sevens such a great sporting occasion.”
The first event will be held in Galashiels on Sunday and marks the Maroons’ 120th tournament (see preview on page 28).
David Kilshaw from BSPC (Scottish Borders Solicitors Property Centres) sponsor of the Kings of the Sevens added: “The atmosphere at a rugby sevens is second to none and this tournament gives the chance to visit 10 different towns and discover what each one has to offer.”
Of course, the region is truly home to the abbreviated game as it was invented by Ned Haig (IRB Hall of Fame) in 1883.
Ned – born in Jedburgh in 1858 – was working as a butcher in Melrose, while playing for the Greenyards club, when he came up with the idea of hosting a one-day rugby tournament to raise funds.
At the time he explained: “Want of money made us rack our brains as to what was to be done to keep the club from going to the wall, and the idea struck me that a football tournament might prove attractive.”
The games were shortened from the usual 80 minutes to 15 (seven minutes for each half with one minute half-time), and the teams were reduced to seven players.
The first ever rugby sevens was played at The Greenyards on April 28, 1883 – as the main attraction of a sports day that also included running races and ball-kicking events.
With the games being played at a frantic pace, the tournament was an instant success – and the other Borders clubs all set up their own tournaments collectively known as the Borders Sevens circuit, and unsurprisingly, it’s the oldest such circuit in the world.
The full BSPC Kings of the Sevens Tournament programme is as follows: Gala (April 3); Melrose (April 9); Hawick (April 16); Berwick (April 17); Langholm (April 23); Peebles (April 24); Kelso (April 30); Earlston (May 1); Selkirk (May 7) and Jed-Forest (May 14).
Keep up-to-date with all the Kings of the Sevens news, previews and reviews in TheSouthern.