Cape Town - South African talent Austin Lockington has played for Melrose since 2013 and has made his home in the picturesque Scottish town of Borders, but he may be facing a conflict of loyalties when South African team, North Western University Pukke, make an international guest appearance at this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Melrose Sevens.
When the whistle sounds for kick off on Saturday, April 11, Lockington may be entering the fray against familiar South African faces, as Melrose try to recapture the trophy they last won in 2011.
Twenty-two year old Lockington takes it in his stride.
Born in Malawi to British parents, his first love was cricket and he didn’t start playing rugby until 14 years of age.
Lockington, a flyhalf and fullback for Melrose RFC, appreciates this was a relatively late start:
“Cricket was what we all played in Thyolo, Malawi, but it was quite a rural setting, not especially known for sport, but it all changed for me when I attended boarding school at Michaelhouse in Natal just outside Pietermaritzburg as that’s where I got into rugby. The school is synonymous with rugby, it lives and breathes the sport - we’d play several games on Saturdays and the whole school would turn out to watch and I instantly loved it, taking to the sport really quickly.
“At 15 years old I was spotted at trials for the Sharks and I was the only boy from the school to be selected for their Under-16s team and continued to play for them throughout my teens. From there I was offered a year’s contract by Western Province Academy in Cape Town and we had a match against the Springbok Sevens, the biggest team in South Africa. It was one of those days when the ball bounced my way and I got a phone call that night to say I’d been head-hunted for the Springboks’ emerging side to go to Kenya. I was only 19 years old.
“Looking back, my rise was so fast and exhilarating it was somewhat overwhelming. My coach suggested a move abroad to broaden my experience and I was delighted to head to Scotland in 2013 and join Melrose RFC.
“The team was so welcoming, I instantly got on with all the guys and I was immediately struck by the professionalism and knowledge of the players. My strengths lie in being fast, agile and it suits me to play flat as I’m not the biggest guy on the pitch so I use other strengths. I play 15s all season then Sevens at the end and I enjoy the space you get on the pitch when there’s only seven of you per side, it works for me as speed and agility are my friends.
“I also appreciate the fan support you get in Scotland. Rugby is hugely popular in South Africa and players are heroes over there but due to its high profile there’s a proliferation of franchises, team and professional sides whereas here I feel there may not be the density of leagues and clubs but the following you get is truly impassioned and that’s what counts.
“Last year was my first experience of playing Sevens at its birthplace in Melrose - it’s the heart of the sport and the town transforms over the weekend so it was a huge buzz. Playing for Melrose RFC is a privilege as we’re the host, playing in front of a crowd of around 12 000 people. After that first taste I’m definitely looking forward to the 2015 tournament. If we do come up against a South African team it’s no problem for me, no mixed loyalties, I’m one hundred percent Melrose RFC when the whistle blows.”
Mike Dalgetty, Director of Rugby at Melrose RFC, added: “South Africa is a great training ground for any young rugby player due to the recognition of the sport there so Melrose RFC was delighted to sign a young, promising talent like Austin Lockington. He’s an asset to the side and I’m sure he’ll look forward to showing his South African compatriots how things are done in Melrose.”
The 125th playing of the Melrose Sevens takes place on April 11. The game of rugby sevens was created in Melrose in 1883 and its popularity has spread to attract global interest and participation. Teams from across Scotland will compete against international teams in the Borders town of Melrose which takes on a carnival atmosphere for the duration of this key date in the sporting calendar.