After a round trip to Inverness of nearly 450 miles a week previously, Duns made the much shorter 25 mile journey to Riverside Park, Jedburgh on Saturday to contest the Scottish Borders District Union Seven-a-side tournament.
Formerly contested by 16 clubs in a knockout format, the Sevens seem to have slipped in importance in recent years, and this season only eight sides took part. Langholm, Berwick and Hawick YM were all involved at the senior sevens at Langholm, while Walkerburn and St Boswells had league matches to play, Hawick Linden and Hawick Harlequins had opted to play elsewhere, and Gala YM couldn’t raise a side.
To accommodate the reduced numbers, the tournament was changed from a knockout format to two pools of four clubs with each club playing the other three in their pool. Duns were drawn in pool B alongside Gala, the cup holders, Kelso and Peebles, while the clubs in pool A were Earlston, Melrose, Selkirk and Jed-Forest.
Duns played their first match against Gala, and won a bruising encounter against the title holders by 26-10. Duns led 12-5 at the interval thanks to two tries by David Hutchison and a conversion from Stuart Thomson, and two further tries after half time by Hutchison again and Allen Whellans, both converted by Thomson, sealed the victory.
The second group match was against Kelso, who had beaten Peebles 45-5 in their first match. Kelso opened the scoring, but were quickly pegged back by a Chris Williamson try converted by Thomson. A converted David Hutchison try gave Duns the lead at half time, but Kelso were first to score after the break to narrow the gap to two points. However, Duns pulled clear in the closing minutes of the tie with tries from Ben Black and David Hutchison, converted by Thomson and Hutchison respectively, and Duns won a slightly bad-tempered match (it was Kelso, after all ) by 28-2.
Duns knew that a win against Peebles would see them top the group and go straight into the main final. Peebles had lost their two group matches heavily, but took the lead against Duns to momentarily suggest that an upset might be on the cards. Duns then took control, and had the match in the bag at half time with a 26-5 lead thanks to a hat-trick from Dane Ivison and a fourth try by Bert Grigg. Duns also lost the sevices of Andrew Baxter in the first half with a shoulder injury. The second half was played at walking pace as both sides tired, with Duns adding unconverted tries from Dale Robertson and Budge Burns to seal a 36-5 victory.
In pool A both Earlston and Melrose looked good, and both won their opening two games. They met in what was effectively a semi final match, and Earlston prevailed in an excellent match by 22 - 19. That meant Duns would face Earlston in the main final with Melrose playing Kelso in the Plate final.
The Plate final was an end to end contest, which Kelso seemed to have in the bag when they lead by 26-14 with only two minutes remaining. However, Melrose scored two converted tries in the dying moments of the match to record an excellent win by 28-26, and they lifted the Plate.
As Duns took to the field against Earlston in the Cup final, the announcer on the public address system commented that it was the first time in the more than 100 year history of the tournament that two Berwickshire sides had contested the final. Earlston started the match very well and raced to a 12 point lead, but before the interval they were pegged back by Duns when David Hutchison scored and Stuart Thomson converted. After the break Hutchison scored again to level the match, but Earlston once again took charge with a converted try.
With players on both sides flagging from the effort of a 10 minutes each way final, mistakes inevitably crept into the game, and neither side was able to secure decent possession.
Just as the match seemed to be heading to a close, Ben Black made a line break and took off from his own half of the field. He had the puff - just - to make it to the line, and then had to steady himself for the conversion which would once again tie the scores. Not the usual kicker, there was an enormous amount of pressure on his shoulders, but he made no mistake.
The referee blew for full time, and the players were forced to endure a sudden death outcome to the match. Heartbreakingly for Duns, it was Earlston who scored first to win the Cup, but both sides should be commended for their efforts in what was a pulsating tie of Sevens rugby. Well played, Earlston.
The Duns squad was :- Dale Robertson, Chris Williamson, Bert Grigg, Ben Black, Stuart Thomson, David Hutchison, Andrew Baxter, Allen Whellans, Dane Ivison and Budge Burns. Tom Wilson, a former Duns Colts player now playing with Melrose, took Andrew Baxter’s place for the final. No fewer than 5 of the squad of 10 were playing in the Colts last season, a ringing endorsement of the good work being done within the club at Colts and Under 16 level.
This weekend Duns have Sevens on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday they take part at Walkerburn Sevens, and on Sunday the curtain is brought down on the playing season at Earlston Sevens.