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Scotland should bear in mind that sevens is not just a game for the specialists

Picture the scene in Richie Vernon's bathroom last Saturday morning.

Richie Vernon excelled during the Glasgow 7s. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU
Richie Vernon excelled during the Glasgow 7s. Picture: SNS Group/ SRU

Since his move from the forwards to the backs, the Glasgow Warrior has acquired the extensive range of personal grooming products that are de rigueur when you become a piano player rather than a piano shifter. Spoiled for choice, he is trying to decide whether to begin his moisturising regime with the jojoba body oil or the pure organic rosehip butter. Then, suddenly, he remembers. "Oh bugger! I'm actually meant to be a forward again today."

He sweeps his hand along the shelf, sending all his aromatic lotions, potions, rubs and scrubs crashing to the floor. "Hmm," he then says. "I suppose I better not wear those bright green Nike Airprat boots either."

For the avoidance of doubt - and letters that begin with the words 'We act for Mr Richard Vernon' - the above scenario is entirely fictional.

Neither I, this newspaper, its advertisers or commercial partners have any cause to believe that Richie Vernon is even the least bit girly, has an unusually heightened interest in soft furnishings or possesses an extensive collection of Celine Dion records. Furthermore, we wish to make it clear that he is a thoroughly fine rugby player for whom we have nothing but admiration.

Which is rather the point. For his, erm, fineness was abundantly clear last weekend as he romped around Scotstoun doing heroic service on forward duty for the Scotland sevens side. With Vernon on board, and boosted by a handful of other professional players who had not figured on the international sevens circuit this season, the Scots finished fourth in the Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s, their best finish in any tournament for five years.

Vernon's class was obvious. As were the qualities of his fellow refugees from the 15-a-side game: Nick De Luca, James Eddie and Lee Jones. In their company, Scotland's more regular sevens performers all stepped up a notch, coming achingly close to an inaugural appearance in an HSBC Sevens World Series event.

But hang on. Isn't sevens meant to be a game for specialists these days? And isn't this the thinking behind Scotland having a sevens programme entirely separate from other mainstream rugby?

Yes to the above. In which light, the performances of Vernon, De Luca, Eddie and Jones were an inconvenient spanner in the works of the prevailing orthodoxy. The quartet transformed Scotland not because they are great sevens players, but because they are great rugby players. There is no great difference between the two things.

Yes, there are certain players whose particular skills are appropriate to sevens. And yes, there are top-level XVs players who should never be allowed within 100 miles of a sevens pitch. But the crossover is far larger than many would have you believe. Glasgow Warriors had some acknowledged sevens masters in their squad when they came to the Melrose tournament last month, but it was widely believed that their lack of specialist preparation would count against them. They won it at a canter.

All of this poses a problem for Scotland sevens coach Stevie Gemmell. When the HSBC Series ends in London this weekend - with the near-inevitable crowning of New Zealand as champions for the 12th time in 15 seasons - Gemmell will sit down to select his 12-man squad for this summer's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. He has indicated in the past that the core of that dozen will be drawn from the players who have been trotting round the globe on Scotland sevens duty for the past six months, but he also knows that the prospects of success would be ramped up considerably if he drafted in more outsiders.

It is a horrible decision to have to make. Does he remain loyal to those who have served under him in all the other tournaments, or does he decide that winning is everything and that raiding the professional squads of Edinburgh and Glasgow is the only way to succeed? Gemmell has said he will be "ruthless" but the likeliest outcome is that he will try to strike a balance. Either way, there are going to be some very disappointed players around when the cut is finally made.

Gemmell has also said that Scotland are capable of winning a medal in Glasgow this summer. Their fourth-place finish at Scotstoun certainly backs that up as Fiji, who claimed third in the play-off match, will not be taking part. It will be intriguing to see how they get on in London this weekend without Vernon and his mates.

AND ANOTHER THING

In a business populated by braggarts and trumpet-blowers, Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons is a welcome exception. Polite, quietly-spoken and amiable, the former lawyer gets his message across by the careful choice of words rather than ratcheting up the decibel levels.

Which is all very well, but the performance his side put in against Munster in the RaboDirect PRO12 last Saturday was the kind of thing that suggested he should pump up the volume a bit. The Irish side scored 55 points, the most Edinburgh have conceded in the Celtic competition in almost a decade.

Solomons claims his players are weary. His explanation, which conveniently puts the blame on the previous coaching regime, is that their pre-season preparations last summer were inadequate.

But wait. Controversially, Solomons has brought a raft of southern hemisphere players - mostly his fellow South Africans - to Edinburgh this season. And as many of them have been playing pretty much constantly since early spring last year, might their tiredness have more to do with that?

Just a thought, but wouldn't it be wiser to sign players who can bring freshness to the side?

There's no point complaining about fatigue levels if they arrive at the club half-dead already.

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