Starting Again with Scotland Sevens

As the first leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series is set to kick off, it must be asked whether another season beginning with ‘assessment’ is good for Scotland.

Yesterday a press release winged its way from Murrayfield. On it was a message from Phil Greening, another coach brought north by Andy Robinson. He is tasked with turning Scotland’s 7s side into competitors.

“For us, this tournament is an element of fact-finding to see exactly where we are and where we want to improve,” he told the Scottish Rugby website.

Just to recap, Scotland Sevens were coached by Stephen Gemmell, who was replaced by Graham Shield in 2010. Two years later Greening replaced Shiel as head coach of a side with dedicated funding and a majority of fully professional players at its disposal.

Gemmell and Shiel are still in the employ of the SRU, with Gemmell holding a title of Head of Player Development and Shiel being retained as a skills coach. Quips about the impossibility of being released from Murrayfield aside, it is 100% possible for these two men with a large amount of recent coaching experience to pass on help to their colleague Greening.

Why do Scotland have to start afresh every single season?

The pressure is on. The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow are looming, with only two years to get the hosts up to standard. Greening has a contract that extends beyond the 2014 Games and he is under no illusions that the nation will want a show.

When the SRU eventually yielded and allowed the press to talk to Greening directly at the end of last month he had this to say: “I just want to see an improvement in the way we portray ourselves against the other nations. I want to be better than tenth [current ranking]. We start with Australia, Fiji and Tonga and it couldn’t really be any harder but, if we get out of our group, that would be a good start for me. And if we don’t we have to make sure we progress in the Plate.”

In the space of a few weeks he has stepped from that, to this: “I’m really struck by how every country has stepped up massively and is really investing in their sevens programme.”

Perhaps some may suggest that Greening is simply filing his excuses early, so no one is really to disappointed if Australia, Fiji and Tonga perform as expected. However, there is an element of Greening finally realising the scale of his task here.

Other countries do invest a lot. New Zealand, England, Fiji and even South Africa can be terrifying in full flow. They have far-reaching plans, standards every single player must meet in training –from top speed to yo-yo fitness test result and weight requirements.

Scotland have not traditionally been like this, but offering a coach a long-term contract may be a sidestep in the right direction. Greening has seen the development of England’s Sevens programme and he has analysed enough coverage in his recent work with Sky to see the gulf.

Building towards the Commonwealth Games is a contractual imperative and the Scottish Government want as much success in Glasgow as possible. Greening has all sorts of pressures.

Maybe it would have been nice if the last four years of assessment by Gemmell and Shiel could have been offered to him and last year’s efforts – which fell just short – could be built on and improved.

Improvement should really start from day one, rather than dawdling into the third tournament of the HSBC Series with the new plan.

Scotland kick-off their Sevens season in Queensland this Saturday, with Fiji up first. The rest of the Gold Coast Sevens first day will be spent playing Australia and then Tonga.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.