Sevens series looks like a step too far

Skipper Bruce McNeil
Skipper Bruce McNeil

The Kings of the Sevens is in full swing. Pity Hawick are struggling to make any sort of mark on the historic competition.

Hawick have never won an outright Kings title. However, they still have a rich history of not just competing at the Kings tournaments but winning, a lot.

The Greens have been competitive in every Kings series since its inception in 1999, winning at least one tournament every year up until last season, where a relegation play-off match and the attritional nature of a long XVs season led to a severe drop-off in performances – which seems to have remained after five rounds of this year’s Kings competition.

“I think the club has stood still with regards to the sevens. We rested on the successes of previous sides and never really improved. Teams eventually caught up and have passed us,” said Hawick captain Bruce McNeil, when asked why Hawick have fallen so far down the Kings pecking order.

“Most of the teams have passed us now and we are playing catch-up. I think there are a number of contributing factors as to why this happened, but I think the organisation of it hasn’t quite been what it needs to be and we’ve lost a lot of ground.

“We had the relegation play-off last season and I think our entire focus was on that. It meant that, when the XVs season was finally over, boys didn’t bother with the sevens and that kind of attitude towards the sevens has remained into this season, even though we don’t have a relegation play-off or anything like that to distract us.”

Hawick’s 2017 and 2018 Kings performances have been remarkably poor by their standards. They have failed to make it to the last four or a reach final of a single Kings tournament since their own sevens back in 2016, which was also the last time they won a tournament. It is been first-round exits or quarter-final finishes for the better part of two Kings series and McNeil isn’t surprised by the severe drop in success.

“There are probably three or four teams who are streets ahead now,” said McNeil.

“They take sevens, and training for it, very seriously and it shows at tournaments. Their fitness, skill levels and dedication is a lot better and they are setting the standard. Unfortunately, we aren’t doing what they are doing. Thing now is, we know what needs to be done to get to their standard, they’ve set it, and it’s up to us to get up to their level.”

This year’s Kings campaign has seen the Greens involve a number of younger players, with the vast majority of the more experienced stars preferring to use the spring period to rest their bodies before the new seasons begins in late July. The likes of Kyle Brunton, Fraser Renwick, Kirk Ford, Lewis Ferguson and Ross Mawdesley have all featured heavily for the Greens this term. They are all fairly new to the intensive nature of the Kings and that inexperience may be a factor in this year’s finishes.

“I think there are a lot of younger guys now in the team who weren’t really part of those teams who did so well for years. There is a lot of inexperience and that really does, no matter what folk say, make a big difference in those periods in matches where it can go either way,” said Hawick’s Dom Buckley.

“When you get to the quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals of tournament, you want to have three or four guys who have been there before, know how to slow the pace down, control games and keep the ball. I think we lack that a bit and it shows in some of our results.”

It is not all doom and gloom for the Teri sevens faithful. There is a potential light at the end of the tunnel. Hawick’s under-18 side is dominating the semi-junior sevens circuit, having lifted the Melrose Wasps sevens, Hawick u18 sevens and Kelso Harlequins sevens already this year.

“There is a lot of potential, not just on the field right now for us, but coming through the ranks,” added Hawick flyer Kyle Brunton.

“The under-18s are doing a great job right now and a lot of them will be coming up to the senior side next season, so there is a lot to be positive about.

“I mean, with the younger guys playing in the senior Kings and getting a taste of where our performances need to be to be winning tournaments, added to these younger guys coming up, who have won a lot this year, there is definitely potential for future success.”

Hawick’s next sevens outing is at Langholm this Saturday. If you are in need of a Kings of the Sevens fix ahead of this weekend’s event, listen to the official Kings of the Sevens podcast ‘Race to the Throne’ online or on Apple iTunes for all the latest news on the series.