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17 October 2014

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Rugby

The first Melrose Sevens match 1883

Melrose Sevens tournament in 1966

© SCRAN

On the 18 April 1993, on a bright cold Sunday, England and Harlequins winger Andrew Harriman lifted the Inaugural Rugby World Cup Sevens trophy at Murrayfield, in Edinburgh. At the time, the ground was under reconstruction and spectator facilities were limited: it would appear to have been an odd choice of venue. Yet to those aware of the history of the abbreviated version of rugby, there could be no other place to stage the event.

The name of the trophy, The Melrose Cup, gives a clue to the origins of the sevens code. For sevens was a Scottish "invention", the product of the sleepy, but charming, town of Melrose, which nestles in the Eildon Hills in the Borders.

Rugby had taken root in the Borders in the 1870s, when the textile towns started to form clubs in Galashiels and Hawick. The game bore a striking similarity to the many "Ba" games which had been played throughout Scotland for many centuries. Rugby football was one of a number of codified versions of these games which had developed during the Victorian era.

Initially the men of Melrose and Gala formed the one team, but local rivalries meant that this was unsustainable. The history of the Melrose club started when they split from Gala, removing the Gala goalposts at the same time and hoisting them at The Greenyards, where the team still play.

In 1883 the club was short of cash, locally believed to have been caused by the doubling of the cost of admission, from 3d to 6d, to a derby match with Gala, which led to a boycott by the visiting support. At this point it was decided to hold a sports day and the Melrose Sports were initiated. The sevens tournament goes by this name to this day.

A sports day was not unusual in Scotland, indeed both Celtic and Rangers football clubs held such events. There were races and a series of other events connected with rugby. The highlight, however, was to be the "football" competition. This had been the brainchild of Ned Haig, an employee in a local butcher's. Haig had originally come from Jedburgh, but had started to play for Melrose in 1880.

He was later to recall: "Want of money made us rack our brains as to what was to be done to keep the Club from going to the wall, and the idea struck me that a football tournament might prove attractive, but as it was hopeless to think of having several games in one afternoon with fifteen players on each side, the teams were reduced to seven men."

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