If the flood of Facebook posts in the week before the St Andrews Rugby Sevens were anything to go by, the 2017 edition of the competition was going to be something special and one of the highlights of the University sporting (and social) calendar. In the end, social media was irrelevant, as the action on the pitches and the atmosphere around University Park did the talking – the St Andrews sevens once again smashed it out of the park.
The tournament retained the format established last year for this edition, the 47th in the competition’s history, with a performance tournament of eight teams (Falkirk and Edinburgh subsequently pulled out, making it just six teams) and a social tournament of 32 teams, divided into eight groups of four. Group winners progressed to the cup competition, runners-up to the Plate and third-place outfits went into the Bowl. Meanwhile, the women’s competition was able to boast the strongest field in their history with nine teams competing for the top prize.
Beginning at 9 am was always going to be a problem for some but those who were there in the morning were able to enjoy the highs and lows of the social tournament and some excellent rugby in the performance competition. That is not to say that there wasn’t good rugby in the social tournament as there was a lot, but in an event where matching kit isn’t essential it is much more about entertainment value than hardcore fans nitpicking backline moves.
This year saw the poignant return of the St Andrews Cavaliers to the performance tournament, nine years after their founding by former St Andrews first XV captain Stephen Sims, who sadly died in 2012. This team was captained by Scott Docherty and in spite of a 38-12 victory over Dundee High just before the midday intermission, the Cavaliers crashed out in the group stage, ultimately punished for their controversial opening match defeat to Scrum Powerbomb.
Last year the tournament was blessed by exceptionally good weather and whilst it didn’t reach the dizzy heights of 2016, the backdrop for this tournament was still pleasant aside from an early afternoon downpour. That downpour, however, was somewhat of a blessing for the performance tournament’s opening semi-final as it meant that the crowd that had been dispersed across five pitches largely coalesced around the pavilion.
The game they witnessed was a special one, as sevens specialists Howe of Fife and Rex Club Red Kites played out an incredibly close, physical encounter. The Kites had beaten Dundee 41- 15 and Durham 19-12 in the group stage and maintained that form in the semi-final, scoring two first-half tries that would prove insurmountable for Howe as the game finished 14-5. Durham then took on Scrum Powerbomb, an invitational sevens team from the Borders, and the two put on a gripping encounter that eventually saw the English side run out 24-12 winners.
Durham had gone into the break 12-7 up and although they were on the backfoot for almost the entire second period, they were able to run in two tries from their own half to secure a rematch with the Red Kites. On balance it was the final such a highly competitive tournament had merited, with Durham’s pace and the Red Kites’ organisation making them the sides to beat.
This time, though, the fixture was to yield a new winner of the St Andrews sevens competition, with Durham holding off a late fightback to triumph 28-19. The first half was a topsy-turvy affair with Durham bookending the half with converted tries, sandwiching a beautiful bit of champagne rugby from the Red Kites that briefly saw them draw level. Durham’s positive start to the first half was repeated in the second as they nailed two tries in quick succession to leave the Kites needing three converted scores to draw level and a fourth to win. They managed to get two tries on the board but Durham were too good and in the end, they ran out deserved winners.
That was not the only silverware Durham took back to England with them, however, as their women’s team also dominated the field to win the competition in convincing style against one of the three St Andrews women’s sides in action.
Three winners, in the customary fashion, were also crowned from the social tournament. The first victory went to the Great North Molerats, who held off a stirring fightback from the Alpha Nails to win the Bowl final 24-17. They were later joined in the winners enclosure by Glasgow-based side the Skitesaders, who put on an excellent performance to down the Dragontroops 19-5 and claim the Plate; and by the Richmond Renegades, who dominated a competitive side from Stirling University to take home the Cup in the day’s final game with a 35-19 win.
Although at times it ran behind schedule and they had some hiccups along the way (I mean come on Edinburgh, don’t pull out on the day of the tournament!), the event was a major credit to the entire rugby coaching setup and to Rory Gardner, the sevens convenor.
There was something for everyone to enjoy, in terms of both rugby and pitchside refreshments, and all the hard work behind the scenes ensured that once again the St Andrews sevens was one of the town’s best events of the year.
As the tournament tagline suggested, everything really is better in sevens.