Former Scotland stand-off Gregor Townsend may have just retired from the game but his older brother, Craig, is still heavily involved and will return to Murrayfield next month as England 7s team manager for the Emirates Airline Edinburgh 7s (2 and 3 June), having played at the stadium three times in the past.
Gregor has played his fair share of sevens, not only because he’s a Borders lad, and he knows just what is heading to Edinburgh, having played in Hong Kong and more recently in Dubai.
Gregor said: “Most people in Scotland haven’t experience an IRB tournament yet and I think they will be pleasantly surprised when they do. The party atmosphere is great and watching rugby in the summer is ideal.
“I’ve played a lot of sevens, having grown up in the Borders, and I also played in Hong Kong three or four times and in Dubai in 2005 with the Bone Steelers,” he added.
Gregor played with the Bone Steelers, managed by former Calcutta Cup winning Scotland captain Andy Nicol and coached by Rugby World Cup Sevens winner Adedayo Adebayo, at the IRB Dubai Sevens sister club event in a bid to regain full fitness having recovered from a broken ankle.
He also played for Scotland when they won the Dubai Sevens in 1992, back in the days when the tournament was played on a sand pitch, and in the 13 year gap between his trips to the United Arab Emirates, Gregor witnessed a phenomenal change in the game.
He said: “International sevens has changed a lot since then. It’s much more competitive and there is more physical contact these days. Back then you’d back-track up the pitch to avoid contact.
“Sevens is definitely good for the game and it helps players for XVs. It’s so important for every player to be able to secure the ball at the breakdown and there are the obvious fitness and explosive power benefits too,” he added.
Brother Craig is more than familiar with Murrayfield having played at the stadium three times in the past - for Gala Academy in the 1988 Schools Cup victory, for the South in the match against the Exiles in 1995 and in the 1999 National Cup win for Gala over Kelso.
He said: “Running out onto the pitch at Murrayfield is great and no matter what country you’re from, playing sevens in a national stadium will be very special. It’s great for spectators and players alike, and having visited recently ahead of the Edinburgh tournament, I’m very impressed with how the stadium has been set up for the event. It has been utilised to the full and will be very comfortable for the teams.
Craig is fairly new to his current post but came up to do a reccie of the ground recently and to visit Gregor. He said: “I’ve been the sevens manager since the start of February this year but I’ve been involved in the England coaching set-up for about five years now. It was a natural progression for me to move up and into team management. “
“I’m working with a good bunch of guys. England 7s have used predominantly young players, with an experienced core group, for a few years now so it’s all about player development. It has worked well over the past couple of years with players like Mathew Tait and David Strettle coming through and on to bigger things,” he added.
Scotland have seen their fair share of players come through sevens and onto the full national team. In recent years Simon Taylor, Sean Lamont, Rob Dewey, Kelly Brown and Dave Callam, to name but a few, have all been exposed in the abbreviated version of the game before winning full caps.
That trend is sure to continue with the majority of the sevens squad this season selected from the National Academy structure, the best of Scotland’s young, up and coming talent.
Craig said: “It’s great for getting the players used to playing in front of big crowds and I think Scotland are definitely on the right path by using Academy players. There is more individual pressure in sevens at this level, your skills have to be spot on and your fitness has to be high.â€
Tickets for the Emirates Airline Edinburgh 7s are on sale now and at only £10 for adults for one day or just £15 for both days (including free concessions on all pre-booked tickets) this is a weekend not to be missed. Visit www.edinburgh7s.com for all the latest news and book your tickets today.