It may come as a surprise to fans who have watched him excel out wide for Bath and England in the 15-a-side game, but Ruaridh McConnochie did not line up on the wing in sevens.
McConnochie proved a versatile asset for both England and Great Britain in rugby’s shorter format, appearing as a forward, back and playmaker during his time competing on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and at the Olympic Games in Rio.
But, according to the man himself, there is a simple reason why he was not asked to patrol the wing in sevens — he isn’t fast enough.
“I don't think I can play wing,” McConnochie told World Rugby. “The out and out gas that some of those sevens wingers have is crazy.
“I can get away with it in 15s, but when you're trying to be up against a few wingers out there that are running the 100m in 10.1 (seconds) or 10.2, it's quite a scary place when it's quite a wide pitch.”
Excellence under fatigue
But, the Bath winger retains great admiration for the feats that are achieved in sevens, given the fitness levels that are required to excel on a full-sized pitch populated by only 14 players.
“It's easy enough to look at the game and see people passing, kicking, beating people [and] that is a rugby skill. But, it's just the fact that it's done under such immense fatigue,” McConnochie said.
“I honestly remember, most games, within the first minute you're blowing and then you realise, ‘Oh God, I've got quite a long way left’.
“To see some of these guys do the stuff they do. Some of the world's best players out there beating people for fun or knocking over a dropkick conversion from the touchline. That under such huge fatigue is crazy and something that I think is forgotten when you're watching it on TV or from the crowds at games.”
McConnachie started his rugby journey as a mini at London Scottish, and progressed as far the third tier of English rugby, playing a season for Hartpury College in National League 1, prior to joining the national sevens setup.
However, his switch to The Rec in 2018 represented his first step into a professional 15s environment and required a number of adjustments to his game.
“Bath were really good with me in terms of not massively heightening my expectations,” McConnochie explained.
“Instead of saying, 'Yeah, you should be playing by this time, this time', it was all about taking my time and just getting back used to 15s and how to play and taking [on]… the amount of info in the game that goes on, compared to just sevens where it's more play what we see.”
So, what was the biggest adaptation he had to make as he settled back into 15s? “I hadn't kicked for three years, obviously you don't really kick that much in sevens!” he added.
“I was pretty much learning from scratch, so that was a big one. Another one was high-ball work.
“Well, I thought, going into it, it would be easy as I did a lot of aerial work in the sevens. But, all the aerial work in the sevens was overhead catching or slap-backs from the kick-offs and stuff.
“So, to actually almost retrain my run up and timing so that I catch almost in that bucket catch from say box-kicks or up-and-unders from the opposition 10 was a big learning point for me.”
Big crowd experience
McConnochie was, of course, able to repay Bath for their faith as he adjusted seamlessly to life at The Rec and won a place in the England squad by the end of his first season.
Injury delayed his test debut, but having started against Italy at St James’ Park he was picked by Eddie Jones for Rugby World Cup 2019, where he made a try-scoring appearance against USA.
McConnochie had not expected to progress so far so quickly following his switch from sevens, but he believes his experiences in the shorter format helped his development.
“Obviously in the sevens, everyone in the team has to be there to beat people one-on-one and I think that helped me massively going in. Just that confidence to try and go at people and try and beat defenders,” he said.
“Probably the big thing was knowing that I'd performed on the world stage for England and played well for England's sevens against other international countries in stadiums that were sort of 50,000-60,000 sell-out crowds.
“I knew that I could do it in those pressure environments and coming to the Premiership, a lot of youngsters coming through academy and school systems when they get their first cap, they've probably never experienced those big crowds.
“I think that's why I love the idea of sevens and utilising it for those young players coming through, if clubs allowed it more for those players to come through and play for their international sides.
“Because, I just think there's no other place like it. Until you get into the international level, when are you playing in front of crowds of 50,000-60,000 people? You just don't get it in the Prem. I think the biggest is probably 20,000 or 25,000 Premiership-wise, unless it's a one off at Twickenham.
“So, I think that helped me massively, and coming into games with crowds here you almost don't really think about it.”