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Sevens out, it's time for oval action . . . but not as we know it

TO PLAY for your country is thrilling.

Colin Gregor is captain of a Scotland sevens side full of talent that handles better than most and leads passing statistics. Picture: SNS
Colin Gregor is captain of a Scotland sevens side full of talent that handles better than most and leads passing statistics. Picture: SNS

To captain your country is mindblowing. To go one better and lead your country in a huge multi-sport event like the Commonwealth Games is a massive achievement given to few. To do that when the event is being staged in your home city with family and friends helping throng the stadium - well, you start to run out of superlatives.

That is one reason the Games have been looming so large in the life of Colin Gregor, the Scotland seven-a-side rugby captain - for he is that man struggling for the words to sum up the magnitude of the historic event now less than 11 weeks away.

It is 11 years since he made his Scotland sevens debut, eight since he played in his first Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, five since he first captained his country in a stint that has included two World Cup Sevens tournaments. He played his 50th tournament in Scotland colours at Twickenham over the weekend, he is the first Scot - only the eighth from any country - to pass 1,000 points in international sevens events. Despite all those records, he still thinks leading the side out Ibrox at the end of July cannot be beaten.

"I know it's a bit of a cliche but it will be the pinnacle of my career, the highlight," he said. "Playing for your country is a huge honour, captaining it even more of an honour and to do so in a multi-sport event in your home city where there is so much hype and excitement building around it, it will be a special occasion.

"You don't get the chance to play in a Commonwealth Games very often and a home Commonwealth Games is a once in a career thing. It increases the excitement and we are all desperate to perform well in front of our home crowd. I don't think it adds pressure, it adds anticipation and excitement because it is in Glasgow and is going to be the biggest crowd we have played in front of in Scotland. It will be fantastic."

To add to the spice and spirit for Gregor, he believes years of team building and practice are starting to come together and though they have a tough pool with New Zealand, who have never been beaten by any Scottish rugby team, Canada - who beat Scotland last week at Scotstoun - as well as minnows Barbados, they have every chance of doing well in front of their own supporters. "We have been building throughout the season and the results at the Scotland leg of the World Series were a real positive," Gregor said.

"We are able to compete with the good teams, the top teams. We showed that it is not just idle chit chat, that there is some substance behind it. There is a real value to having a full-time sevens squad. If you look within it we are maybe a little lightweight in terms of the physicality required to play sevens these days but a lot of the work we are doing week-in, week-out is benefiting us and then when we add a couple of guys from Edinburgh or Glasgow, the rest of the squad are so in tune with what we are doing that it is easy to bring them up to speed.

"I think there is potential for that in the Commonwealth Games."

It's not a sevens squad that plays to the Scottish stereotype of all fluster and bluster, playing harum-scarum back-row rugby without much skill. This team handles the ball more and better than most on the circuit and they regularly lead the statistics for the number passes per game.

As Gregor hinted, where they sometimes struggle is in the brute force and ignorance side, with not enough 15, 16 or 17 stone flanker-style players who can blast their way through opponents and smash the breakdown. That is where the ability to levy some 15-a-side specialists really pays off for Scotland and with the Games played out of season there is no reason they cannot get whoever they want.

James Eddie and Richie Vernon made a big difference in the Glasgow leg; Jack Cuthbert was called in to do the same job in London and they are the types of player head coach Stevie Gemmell is likely to be negotiating for when he sits down to finalise his squad later this month.

After that? Well, there is an added carrot hidden away. In two years, sevens hits the Olympics and there will be opportunities there for those who shine in Glasgow and keep shining over the following months.

If we are already struggling for superlatives, that might demand a whole new language of hyperbole.

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