After an absence for six years, Highland RFC re-launched their Highland 7s tournament in fine style at the weekend.
Opting for the more democratic round-robin format to begin with rather than the cut-throat straight knock-out format of Melrose, the draw saw the tournament split into 4 pools of 5 Teams, with representatives from all over Scotland including the Armed Services and a couple of scratch sides. The pools were as follows:
- Pool 1: Highland, Black Watch, Allan Glens, Inverness Craig Dunain and RAF Lossiemouth Owls
- Pool 2: Duns, Ross Sutherland Stags, Mackie Academy, Caithness and The Mackinnons
- Pool 3: Glenrothes, Highland Reds, Perthshire, Stormrider Barbarians and Strathspey
- Pool 4: Isle of Mull, Ross Sutherland Wildcats, Aberdeen Grammar, Gordonians and Leavemyarsealona
A fair sprinkling of rain in the preceding days had made underfoot conditions on the pitch and the pitchside tricky for both watching and playing 7s, but despite this the rain actually held off for the day. As the tournament progressed into the afternoon the pitches were starting to dry out, allowing for some quality rugby to be played.
Using all four pitches available to the club, the tournament ran successfully with great support soaking up the atmosphere for the duration of the day. With the wind switched round from the usual direction whistling down the Great Glen it wasn’t as cold as it could have been either even coming from the North!
After some keenly contested Pool matches the Bowl final was won by The Mackinnons, a team made up of family members and featuring ex-Highland player Gus Milton, who defeated local side Ross Sutherland 17-12.
The Shield final was contested by Aberdeen Grammar, featuring a couple of players who had played at Melrose the week before and been something of a surprise package there. Their opponents were RAF Lossiemouth Owls, who are currently the RAF 7s Champions and who had also performed very well earlier in the day against a Black Watch team dominated by hard running Fijians.
In the end Aberdeen Grammar’s pace was the deciding factor with them running out winners by 38-19.
The Cup competition was played on the main pitch and saw the Cup Quarter Finals play out as follows:
- Black Watch 41 v 14 Mackie
- Duns 21 v 19 Highland
- Perthshire 0 v 15 Leavemyarsealona
- Isle of Mull 29 v 0 Glenrothes
- Black Watch 15 v 14 Duns
- Leavemyarsealona 7 v 19 Isle of Mull
Duns were just pipped in the first semi and perhaps should have been awarded a try, when one of the Army players was yellow carded for foul play, with the referee blowing up for the incident rather than allowing advantage. As the day had worn on the Black Watch – returned from Afghanistan only the week before – had seemed to tire a little, and this lapse in discipline could perhaps be put down to that. Despite this they still had bags of pace and great handling skills and boasted former Fiji 7s player Emosi Naisaramaki in their number; they had overturned all the teams in their pool, seeing them through to the final.
The second semi-final saw Leavemyarsealona, a team made up from Aberdeen University and Gordonians players, lose out to Mull in a very open and fast game.
With 56 matches already played, a large crowd had gathered to see the final match with pre-tournament favourites the Black Watch, taking to the field against a young Mull side who had been playing some great rugby in the pool stages. Mull had suffered a number of injuries over the course of the day so recruited Highland and Scotland U17/U18s player Ruairidh Knott, along with David Hutchison and Stuart Thomson from Duns, to help them in the final.
The match was a real highlight to finish the day, with the Army side throwing the ball around in true Fijian style, as well as putting in some very big hits to delight the crowd. Mull weren’t going to throw in the towel and scored some impressive tries of their own, including a great run from his own try line by Ruairidh Knott, who bowled over one would-be tackler before sprinting to the line. Mull, boosted by the Highland crowd who love an underdog, managed to hold on with superior fitness and ran out deserved winners, 26-14.
The organising committee are delighted with the response and support from all the clubs, many of whom travelled long distances to take part in the competition. Organiser Craig Little said afterwards: “The tournament was a great success both on and off the pitch. There are so many people to thank for all the hard work that went into making this possible.”
“We have had a number of teams who have already been in touch with us to thank us for the hospitality and saying that they want to come back next year.”
As a central location for teams from the East, North and West, Inverness should have a rugby event of this type and it is great to see the Highland 7s back in action. The mission now must surely be to build on it and try and grow the crowds and awareness of the event. As the IRB series has shown, 7s is a great way to introduce the game to people and a one-day burst of rugby action could be the perfect way to get people in the North of Scotland engaged with rugby.
Little continued, “hopefully we can build on the good work and make the competition even bigger and better in 2013 It goes to show how popular the 7s circuit is and to have a competition like this that attracts teams from all over Scotland is great.”
However his ambition extends beyond that, to really push the game of sevens up here.
“I’d be interested to speak to other clubs in the North about creating a Kings of the 7’s circuit up here, similar to what they run in the Borders and maybe having four or 5 big competitions to give clubs up here something to play for on an annual basis.”
Rory is the editor of Scottish Rugby Blog, and has offered a fan's view on Scottish Rugby since founding the blog.