The much talked-about experiment of the South of Scotland Development Squad worked almost perfectly on Saturday, as the young line-up reached the final of the Prince of the 7s tournament at Walkerburn.
With a healthy dose of Borders talent sprinkled throughout the tournament, the young South line-up was beaten by a slender margin by Melrose Storm.
Led by Kelso’s Nik Stingl, the Development side included a couple of senior players, along with eight of the most talented youngsters in the south of Scotland.
The South got off to a fine start, winning 29-10 against Ross High in round one, then defeated Hawick Linden, who had a bye from the first round after their opponents withdrew, 43-7.
In the semi-final, South had an even more convincing win, 42-0, over Selkirk A.
Melrose Storm made history this season by winning the BT National Reserve League for the third consecutive year, so were clearly going to be formidable opposition.
They won 50-0 against the host club Walkerburn in the opening game, then beat Trinity Accies 35-14, followed by a semi-final victory against Haddington by 31-17.
In the end, just two points marked the difference, as Melrose Storm won the final 21-19.
South coach Darren Cunningham said: “We were really positive about it.
“The whole objective of the programme was to get some kids together who haven’t played that much and put them in with older, experienced lads, like (fellow coach) Fraser Harkness, and try to give them that experience, and allow them to learn quite a bit as well.”
He added: “We just wanted to get as far as possible in the tournament but wanted to give as many of the lads as much game time as possible.
“We kind of achieved our objective by getting to the final.”
Cunningham said the team was not too despondent about losing, although it would have been nice to win it and, to an extent, victory was deserved.
The South were 19-7 up at half-time but “got beaten by a conversion”, added Cunningham.
They were unfortunate early in the second half to lose Cammy Brown to a shoulder injury as he scored a try. Brown was their most physical forward and had been winning a lot of the ball at kick-offs.
Fraser Harkness had to stay on for the whole game but the South had lost its most effective means of winning the ball at restarts, said Cunningham.
Melrose Storm scored, then won the ball at the next restart, and scored again, he added, which was the key to their victory.
“You have to have the ball and we had a lot of it in the first half at 19-7,” said Cunningham. “But, mainly because we lost Cammy, although not entirely, we struggled, and Melrose had some good guys in their team.”
Cunningham added: “It was a great achievement for the guys – that was the whole point.
“We’re not really that bothered that we didn’t win it, although it would have been nice – it was more that we wanted to learn something and for the guys to get experience.” South Development Squad:
Nik Stingl (Kelso, captain), Callum Renwick (Hawick U18s), Ryan Cottrell (Selkirk YC), Cammy Brown (Kelso Harlequins), Andrew Mitchell (Hawick U18s), Lewis Ferguson (Hawick), Connor Gillon (Kelso), Iain Davidson (Selkirk YC), Ross Combe (Hawick), Fraser Harkness.
Cunningham and Harkness will also be in charge of a separate South squad for the inaugural Edinburgh 7s tournament, which takes place this Saturday at Inverleith, while the South will also be taking part again in the Chester 7s tournament on June 16.