Melrose use Gala’s pool to their great advantage

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. The ref gets tackled by Jedforest player.
123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. The ref gets tackled by Jedforest player.

They are the reigning Kings of the Sevens – and last Saturday Melrose showed why they are favourites to take the crown for a second successive season.

They swept to victory at Gala in the first of the 10 stages that make up this gruelling title race.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Melrose vs Jedforest

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Melrose vs Jedforest

And it was a timely rehearsal, too, for Melrose, ahead of their own tournament at the Greenyards this weekend.

Of course, what makes Gala the ideal preparation for the annual birthday of sevens rugby is the format adopted at Netherdale.

For the third successive season, Gala deployed a pool system, which, because it gives each competing club a minimum of three ties and thus the chance to reacquaint themselves with the demands of the short game, has done much to reinvigorate the famous opening tournament on the spring sevens circuit.

Melrose coach John Dalziel recognised this fact when he said: “We were a bit lethargic in the pool matches, but we got better and better thereafter.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Gala v Melrose in the semis.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Gala v Melrose in the semis.

“The two big games – the semi and the final – were against two really good teams, Gala and Watsonians. We played our best rugby against them after stuttering a wee bit in the group. It’s just not easy turning the switch from fifteens to sevens.”

Arguably, this is a golden era for Melrose in sevens – not to mention their Premiership success.

They have the right balance in their seven that contains players with international experience mixing with those at the top of the club game.

This season, with the addition of South Africa Sevens squad member Austin Lockington and Scotland under-20 cap Damien Hoyland, the pace in their back line has increased.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Gala Melsose in the semis.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Gala Melsose in the semis.

And, with Grant Runciman and Richard Mill so potent in the forward trio, it is hard to see from where the challenge will come on the circuit .

Encouragingly, Gala, bolstered by former Jed winger Gregor Young, but without skipper George Graham, showed they are ready to compete seriously, while Hawick displayed skill and character to reach the sem- final with impressive displays from Greg Cottrell, Jake Evens and Bruce McNeil.

Selkirk were the best of the Borders rest, losing out to Heriot’s in a strongly-contested Bowl final.

But it was Melrose, despite struggling to put away a gritty Jed-Forest side in the pool stages, who looked winners. Moreso after turning up the heat to defeat hosts Gala in the first of the semi-finals, with tries by Bruce Colvine (2), Mill and Anderson, all converted by Scotland Sevens cap Andrew Skeen, to tries for Gala by Grant Somerville Craig Dods and Euan Dods for a 28-17 win.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Hawick vs Watsonians in the semis.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Hawick vs Watsonians in the semis.

In the other semi, Watsonians, the pick by far of the city sides, ran out 31-12 victors against Hawick with tries from Ramsay Young, Scott McKean (2), Chris Scott and Mike Ker, McNeil and Ali Weir touching down for the Teries.

Then, in a quality final, Melrose and Watsonians were level at half-time, the Edinburgh club having scored tries by McKean and Ker, both converted by Ker, and Melrose having had touchdowns from Grant Runciman and Joe Helps, Andrew Skeen adding the extra points to both.

But with a strong second-half performance, Melrose added further tries by Mill, Bruce Colvine and South Africa Sevens cap Austin Lockington, all converted by the infallible Skeen.

Watsonians’ only response was a try from scrum half Ramsay Young.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Melrose win.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale. Melrose win.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale.

123rd annual Gala seven's at Netherdale.