Preview: #Glasgow2014 Sevens
James Mortimer 26 Jul 2014 Getty Images
The story that Sevens started because the forwards decided one day they didn't want to play is more of an urban myth.
While the small Borders town has other interests for historians as it is fabled to be the birth place of the legendary King Arthur, the importance of the region is celebrated with the Rugby Sevens World Cup named after Melrose.
The iconic ground, usually the home of football side Rangers, will see 45 games played out with the ultimate prize a small shiny medal which New Zealand has not relinquished since it was introduced in 1998 to the 16th Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Since then Sir Gordon Tietjens has guided his troops to four consecutive Gold Medals and 25 straight victories at the Games while scoring an incredible 971 points over this time.
However so much has changed since then, even since the 2010 Commonwealth Games, both for the title holders and the rest of the world.
The competition in Delhi was held less than a year after the grand news that Sevens had been accepted into the Summer Olympics, and since then the landscape has developed considerably.
One merely needs to take a look at the hosts, grouped in the same pool as New Zealand.
Two months ago the Scottish achieved their best ever IRB Sevens tournament result, finishing fourth in Glasgow, and head coach Stephen Gemmell has selected a squad containing 88-Test veteran Sean Lamont and British and Irish Loin Stuart Hogg – perhaps the strongest Scottish Sevens team ever assembled.
The buttressing of Sevens squad for such events is nothing new, Australia has Reds Investec Super Rugby flanker Liam Gill while there has been plenty of talk over the release of Bryan Habana from Toulon so the Springboks wing can feature for the Blitzbokke.
Meanwhile Tietjens, who has had the likes of Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen at his disposal before, will not rely on a galaxy of All Blacks.
This year only Blues back Pita Ahki is a Investec Super Rugby regular in the squad.
However this will not faze New Zealand, who know that enlisting high profile names is no guarantee for success, a strong core of Sevens veterans led by current Gold medallists DJ Forbes, Sherwin Stowers and Tim Mikkelson are more valuable than any player from the 15s version of the game.
Add to this the likes of now senior members of the team like playmaker Gillies Kaka, strike forward Ben Lam and emerging youngster Akira Ioane – and the defending champions have a rounded squad that showcases the growing depth of the abbreviated code in New Zealand.
New Zealand were well aware of the challenge ahead of them with the advancement of many Sevens nations, but the squad will back their trademark dependability – during the 2013/2014 circuit the team featured in seven of the nine Cup Finals.
“To win, it’s all about consistency,” Tietjens said.
“It’s being accurate when you need to be, strong defense and dominating possession. If we can play consistently well, and having a strong bench will help, then that plays a big hand in being successful.”
How tactics pan out will be interesting as well, with the weather expected to be typically ambivalent, if the wet strikes, one suspects that New Zealand will have a slight advantage with their comfort in playing such football.
While that would set the stage for a potential Haka in the rain.
All sides have strengthened their groups with experience which will be crucial, but if the favourites can play their high tempo precision defensive game that has been on display over the last 12 months they will be confident.
Unbeaten and with four straight Gold Medals, the biggest threat will be the mantle of expectancy that comes with those black jerseys.
"Yes, there is lot of pressure and expectation on us going into this tournament, but the boys don't really think about it too much," said Ahki.
"Gold is what we're aiming for and we know the steps we have to take to get it. There are some big rugby nations playing at this tournament but it will be down to who shows up on the day."
The sixteen teams who will strive for the coveted Gold medal in front of packed audiences at Ibrox Stadium are Australia, Canada, Cook Islands, England, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Barbados, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Scotland, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Wales.
The reigning champions have been drawn in Pool A alongside Canada, Barbados and Scotland.
Glasgow 2014 rugby sevens pools:
• Pool A – New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Barbados
• Pool B – South Africa, Kenya, Cook Islands, Trinidad and Tobago
• Pool C – Samoa, Wales, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia
• Pool D – England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda
The team is:
Pita Ahki (North Harbour)
Scott Curry (Manawatu)
Sam Dickson (Canterbury)
DJ Forbes, captain (Counties Manukau)
Bryce Heem (Tasman)
Akira Ioane (Auckland)
Gillies Kaka (Hawke’s Bay)
Ben Lam (Auckland)
Tim Mikkelson (Waikato)
Declan O’Donnell (Waikato)
Sherwin Stowers (Counties Manukau)
Joe Webber (Waikato)
New Zealand matches:
26 July, 2014
v Canada 10:32am local (21:32pm NZT)
v Scotland 13:56pm local (Sunday 27 July 00:56am NZT)
v Barbados 20:20pm local (Sunday 27 July 07:20am NZT)
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