The sun was deceptively warm over Scotstoun this morning as the penultimate leg of the IRB World Series arrived in Scotland. Current series leaders New Zealand are still odds on favourites to win the weekend, and the USA Eagles have put Scotland’s place in the competition in jeopardy by progressing to the Cup QFs.
Prior to this leg of the series both Scotland and the USA were on the same number of points, and both clinging on to remain part of the core group of tournament teams for next year. However there was all to play for this weekend, as the team that came out on top would see their place in the series in a safer light. Today, to the delight of the vocal travelling support, the USA (in pool D) progressed into the Cup quarter-finals, after a close game against the French whereas Scotland came unstuck against New Zealand and England to progress to the Bowl QF, meaning that their status as a core team is still in danger.
South Africa progressed on from Day 1 with relative ease, winning all three of their matches. Kenya and Canada came close to upsetting the South African party, but the winners of the Tokyo 7s edged the victories in these matches, before finishing their pool games with a resounding triumph over Samoa.
Canada took second place in the group, after recording a two-point victory over Samoa and an eleven-point victory over Kenya, with Taylor Paris and Conor Trainor being stand out performers for the side.
With Samoa and Kenya battling it out for third place, the Kenyan support were vocal as their side challenged the South Africans in the fifth match of the day, and they were still singing and vocal in their support as their side went down 26-0 to the Islanders.
Progression: South Africa and Canada – Cup QFs, Samoa and Kenya – Bowl QFs
The home crowd’s eyes were firmly on these matches as Scotland faced New Zealand, England and Portugal. After England were thumped (no other word for it!) 31-5 by New Zealand, Scotland ran in a solid victory over Portugal; tries from Colin Shaw, Michael Fedo and Chris Dean all helping there.
No one doubted that New Zealand would not win their next game: the Portuguese have yet to record a victory over the All Black 7s in seventeen encounters. With New Zealand sitting firmly at the top of the pool, the pressure was on Scotland to get a win in their next game against the Auld Enemy in order to stand a chance of progressing into the Cup competition. Scotland have already beaten England in this series, (Las Vegas and Hong Kong rounds) but England were not going to let that happen again, running in five tries to Scotland’s one to seal the victory. England went on to beat Portugal 46-0 putting the English in second place and the Portuguese in last place in the pool and leaving the Scots hoping for a miracle in their final game.
The crowd that remained were vocal and noisy in support of the home team, who in this match were sporting an interesting vest style design on their shirts, but they were outclassed in a 28-0 defeat in what was the final match of the day.
Progression: New Zealand and England – Cup QFs, Scotland and Portugal – Bowl QFs
Fiji took the top spot in this pool with the maximum number of points, winning all three of their matches. Their first encounter was a resounding seven try victory over the Spanish, who took bottom spot in this pool, followed by a less starry but solid nonetheless victory over Argentina, who kept fighting until the bitter end, before a narrow comeback victory over the Australians towards the close of the day. The Australians had dominated the first part of the match, building up a nice lead before Fiji staged a fight back to take a two-point victory, and breaking Australian hearts.
The Aussies had an uphill struggle from the word go, losing to Argentina in the very first match of the day, before recovering their stride to put a 42-14 victory past Spain, and had they won against the Fijians by four points, they could have found themselves in the Cup QFs, as it is they finished in third place behind Argentina.
Progression: Fiji and Argentina – Cup QFs, Australia and Spain – Bowl QFs
Provided us with what was, in my opinion, the game of the day. With crowd favourites Russia fighting the French and Welsh to progress and the USA throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it in order to maintain their position, this group was set to be a thriller.
France versus Wales was the first encounter of this pool shortly before lunchtime. Wales dominated the first half; scoring three tries to build a nineteen-point lead at half time, before France clawed back fourteen points in the second half. The second game of this pool saw the USA make a statement of intent, putting eight tries past Russia in an encounter that many were expecting to be a close run game.
Russia also fell victim to a last second France penalty that edged Les Bleus a one point victory in a match that Russia had dominated until a wave of French substitutions boosted the side.
There was more thrilling rugby in my match of the day: USA versus Wales. The stats are in Wales favour, they have recorded seventeen victories over the Americans in the twenty two times they have met. But in this match the Welsh looked as though victory could elude them, as the USA thwarted them at every turn. It was end-to-end open rugby that saw both sides with two converted tries each at half time, and it was only thanks to a try in the final play of the match from James Davies, that the Welsh took the victory. Even if you had no vested interest in the outcome of this game you could not help but get sucked in.
As the day wound down it was left for Wales to claim victory number three over Russia and for a party in the USA as they beat France 21-14 to take second place in the pool.
Progression: Wales and USA – Cup QFs, France and Russia – Bowl QFs