Peebles RFC made a bold move by switching its sevens tournament from the traditional late April date to the first weekend in August.
But, at the end of an afternoon of compelling competition, the new formula was judged a notable success.
Not all went smoothly, however. A couple of late call-offs meant ‘fill-in’ sides were required to make up the list of 16 clubs in the competition, prompting calls for a format rethink.
“We thought about making it a 12-team tournament and will consider that for next season.” said Peebles club president Bob Hogarth. “That would allow us to operate a pool system which would guarantee each club a minimum of two games – and that’s what you want at this time of year.”
Rob Chrystie, coach of winners, Melrose, concurred: “I think it’s brilliant for the boys. The best place to train pre-season is on the pitch. You can’t replicate this intensity in training. It also takes some of the pressure off the end of the season. In the spring season, it becomes a real challenge to try to get boys out week in, week out.”
With victory over Watsonians in a tense and thrilling final, Melrose made an emphatic statement about their 2016-17 Kings of the Sevens title ambitions, albeit with eight months before the competition resumes.
The unseeded draw, which drew criticism from some, meant both finalists had to battle harder than usual through the first and second rounds.
Melrose went to extra time before defeating the Kings of the Sevens title holders Jed-Forest 17-12 in a tight first round tie, while Watsonians were pushed all the way by Selkirk in a 20-19 win.
Then, in the quarter-finals, Melrose scraped past Gala by a single score to win 10-5 and there was a similar battle for Watsonians, who edged out Hawick 19-17, the Greens having paid the penalty of a yellow card shown to Bruce McNeil. Meanwhile, hosts Peebles had ignited excitement in the home support by reaching the semi-final but, against Melrose, the Gytes men succumbed to a powerful second-half performance to bow out of the tournament with a 5-22 defeat.
In the second of the semi-finals, Watsonians were matched in the first half by a Powerbombs side that had shown up well in last season’s Kings of the Sevens competition. But second-half tries by Scott McKean, Euan McKean and Rory Steele allowed the Myresiders to cruise to a comfortable 33-19 win.
The final promised much and, in the event, it delivered.
Melrose established a 17-7 interval lead with tries by David Colvine, Ali Grieve and Fraser Thomson to a try for Watsonians by former Selkirk flanker Angus Duckett. But tries by Rory Steele and Euan McKean for the city side levelled the scores.
Then, in injury time, Melrose clinched the Peebles title with a winning try from their new recruit Ross McCann.
Results: Gala 26, St Boswells 7; Jedforest 12, Melrose 17; Kelso 48; Earlston 7; Peebles 29; President’s V11 5; Biggar 12; Powerbombs 31; Edinburgh Accies 33; Select VII 14; Selkirk 19; Watsonians 20; Berwick 0; Hawick 55. Quarter- finals – Gala 5, Melrose 10, Kelso 19, Peebles 24, Powerbombs 24,Edinburgh Accies 7, Watsonians 19, Hawick 17.Semi-finals – Melrose 22, Peebles 5; Powerbombs 19, Watsonians 33. Final – Melrose 22, Watsonians 17.
Melrose – N. Irvine-Hess, R. Knott, A. Grieve, M. McAndrew, C. Jackson, A. Lockington, F. Thomson, G. Wood, R. McCann, D. Colvine.