Messrs Lowe, Gemmell and Shiel made it abundantly clear yesterday that Scotland was moving into a new era as the SRU announced a full-time sevens squad.
They unveiled a gaudy new set of shirts and a list of names that would be contracted to the sevens and seconded to the two pro sides between tournaments.
Struan Dewar, James Eddie, James Fleming, Colin Gregor, Peter Horne and Andrew Turnbull will all be on full contracts whilst Adam Ashe, Sam Hidalgo Clyne, Kerr Gossman, Rory Hughes, Sean Kennedy and Hamish Watson will all be training as Elite Development players.
For the build up to tournaments, though, Graham Shiel insisted, “Sevens is the priority for these 12 players. They can play with the pro-teams or in club rugby out with the sevens window but, when it comes to preparation and playing in the HSBC Sevens World Series, then Scotland 7s has first call on their services and that’s different to the way we have operated in the past.
“When we have had consistency in our squad we have been able to be competitive on the world stage. In the past we have had players with some sevens expertise but, particularly when we have been choosing players from the pro-teams, we have been asking players whose focus was understandably on XVs to prepare in a very limited time frame, and play sevens.
“Now the emphasis for this group will be sevens and that matters a huge amount in terms of their preparation, their strength and conditioning and their nutrition.”
On top of this 10 or 12 club players deemed good enough will be hand-picked to supplement the squad if and when they are needed, and some have already been earmarked. It is broadly suggested that Andrew Skeen was Scotland’s best player last year and should have been given a contract, but he is one to come back as a club player. Another example is Cameron Wyper, an Australian utility-back that qualifies to potentially represent Scotland, who was recommended to Dundee HSFP by Shiel.
It must also be flagged that Shiel is a man still operating under restrictions. It is no wonder he dreams of greater resources. “I was watching Canterbury versus Wellington [in the NPC] and I heard a name Mc-something. I got excited. If someone is good enough for the NPC, who knows what they could do here? You have to explore every possibility.”
Taken out of context this comment could anger purists, but the reality is that we have incredibly shallow talent pools in this country. We need as many quality players as we can get and as consistent a ‘team’ as possible in order to “compete”, as Graham Lowe puts it.
“Sevens is a phenomenon. It’s growing rapidly and if we want to be competitive on the global stage then we had to find a set-up that would suit Scottish rugby” the Head of Performance stated.
I must hand it to Lowe: he is very good at talking to conferences.
Studying a few of the words he used, however, I found myself realising some of the unmentioned reasons the SRU have finally taken this step.
As the other 2 talked of the “provisions now”, the “spread of experience” and a “model that best suits us” I was considering the words of Lowe. He made no bones about repeating over and over words like “marketplace”, “stage” and “profile”.
No doubt the pressure was on the SRU to name a full-time sevens side, particularly as chatter continues about Scotland’s worth to the Sevens Series if we can’t consistently “compete”. Some people may have already carried the can for last season’s inconsistent results (There is no mention of an offer to last season’s captain, Scott Riddell) but Shiel gets a second tilt at the Series.
On top of this there is the unavoidable marketability of sevens. Now gaining popularity in the States and heading for an Olympic debut in Brazil people will be keen to make as much money out of the shortened game. Scotland won’t want to miss out. We can ill afford to miss out on the sponsorship prospects, let alone losing revenue if we lose our flagship Edinburgh event due to having too low profile a team.
We need to be in the marketplace.
Which brings us to the product: the players. Our raw materials, regardless of place of origin will all be more professionally dealt with, as primacy is given to sevens and the full-time sevens coaches. I truly applaud this move. Contracts tie players down and make them focus purely on sevens in the first instance, even if Stevie Gemmell tells me most players will have the option to leave after a year following a review (Turnbull and the juniors all have this built in to contracts, I am assured).
These contracts are an issue that is tensely skirted around, though.
Rumours abound that any competent sevens players that were released during this summer’s contract cull were offered greatly reduced contracts with the SRU to be ‘sevens players’. Some opted to decline and go abroad. Putting 2 and 2 together I assume Eddie, Gregor, Horne and Turnbull didn’t.
This plays with my conscience. The players may be on less than before, and their XVs careers possibly undermined, but if this is true it would be a great cost-cutting coup for the Union. Edinburgh and Glasgow have, on paper, smaller squads than before, but with getting these guys between tournaments the squads swell back up again.
The SRU have played a blinder in this respect. I do also feel that these contracts will strengthen our Sevens side. My only questions will be answered when we find out if Eddie, Gregor, Horne and Turnbull, players I think are a credit to this country, stick around for a second year.
Either way, I’m hoping Andrew Turnbull scores his 100th try for Scotland…