It would seem there has always been ‘keeping off’ games played by tribes, clans and villages. Two teams had an object (inflated animal bladder or alike) where possession of it was the purpose and moving it to a scoring safe haven (a goal) the work of the team. In the mid 19th century at a town called Rugby in the English midlands there is a school called Rugby and it is said that one day when boys were playing football on a field a boy named William Webb Ellis picked up the football and ran with it. He was obviously pursued and a game of ‘keeping off’ developed amongst the students. Laws were written and when the lads from Rugby moved on to universities and travelled the world they took the game from Rugby with them. The full game was for 15 players on the field and was played all over Britain and the then British Empire within decades and soon moved to non British countries around the world.
In the cobble stoned Borders town of Melrose in Scotland Ned Haig was a member of the Melrose RUFC and as a fund raising exercise created a shorter version of the game that could attract many teams to a tournament that could be played and finished in one afternoon. Some have suggested that 7 a side was chosen so the normal team could train as two 7 man teams and leave one (the fifteenth player) the referee. On April 28th 1883 the first 7s tournament was held at Melrose with 15 minute matches.
The Border advertiser noted the festive spirit of the 7s format:
“ by the time this event… commenced an enormous crowd of spectators had assembled, special trains having been run from Galashiels and Hawick and about 1,600 tickets being taken at Melrose that day. The Galashiels Brass Band, in full uniform, came by the special train and discoursed music at intervals, the light fantastic being tripped by a good few of the young people to its strains."
The final had Haig playing for Melrose against Gail but it was a draw after full time where upon a further 15 minutes was to be played.