After enduring what has been, for the most part, a tough season, the Scottish 7s side returned for their home leg of the HSBC 7s World Series. With questions being asked of how successful the 7s program has been the side now featured XV internationalists Richie Vernon and Nick De Luca had to show what they could do. We saw the Scottish side produce one of their best ever performances in the IRB Sevens series as they remained unbeaten in day 1 before finishing 4th on day 2.
Scotland’s first game was going to be their toughest of day 1 as they played 5th placed Australia who were looking to try and close the gap up at the top of the HSBC 7s World Series standings. However, despite the fact that Australia are 7 places ahead of the Scots in the standings, we managed to get day 1 off to the perfect start by beating the Aussies 19-7.
Scott Riddell put in a strong performance, leading the team in defence before he opened up the scoring with a good try. Captain Colin Gregor followed up just a few minutes later after some good pressure on the opposition 22. Perhaps Scotland’s try of the day came as Scott Wight released Glasgow Warriors winger Lee Jones who managed to get up from a tap-tackle before accelerating to the try line. Gregor managed to convert 2 of the tries.
Scotland could confirm their place in the Cup draw for day 2 by beating the USA in their second match of day 2 and by now, the crowd number was starting to grow, soon reaching the days maximum of 11,710 (remember that Twickenham has just sold out for next week). Nonetheless, the crowd were at least getting vocal and helped the side score four unanswered tries against the USA winning 26-0.
Richie Vernon was then the standout player as he made some bone-crunching tackles whilst using his newly developed centre skills to be a key player in the victory. Lee Jones was again strong in attack as he scored a brace of tries and was joined on the try sheet by Edinburgh centre Nick De Luca as well as Scotland U20 Chris Dean. The ever reliable Gregor converted 3 of his 4 attempts.
With Scotland being confirmed as a Cup Quarter-Finalist for the first time since Dubai earlier in the season, it was now about getting the better draw. A win against struggling Spain would see them play South Africa (2nd in the World Series) but a loss would mean facing New Zealand (1st in the World Series) after the All Blacks won 19-5 in their last pool match against the team just 7 points behind them whilst still being able to rest key players like captain DJ Forbes.
Although Spain had also managed to beat the USA earlier in the day, the Scots concluded day 1 with a resounding 33-12 win. Tries this time came from a James Eddie double, as well as singles from Vernon, Gregor and 7s veteran Andy Turnbull.
Speaking at the end of day 1, head coach, Stephen Gemmell, said: “What a great day and a wonderful atmosphere! The players performed to the level they are capable of today and they couldn’t have done any more. ”
And so we moved onto a rather damp day 2 and first up for Scotland, the Springboks, whom the Scots have only ever beaten twice before in the 7s World Series. But with the larger crowd of day 2 all hoping to see Scotland get into their first Cup Semi-Final since 2009, they certainly helped lift the Scots to a scrappy 12-7 win. South Africa managed to strike first after Scotland got stretched from side to side on their own 22. Then, after some more possession, some quick hands from De Luca allowed Richie Vernon to cross in the right-hand corner, however Gregor missed the conversion.
Come the 2nd half and both sides were looking to get the try that would give them the decisive lead and after picking up from the base of the ruck, Scott Riddell powered his way over the line with just 4 minutes to go. After the conversion was successful, Scotland managed to hold off continued Springbok attacks to eventually take the win, lining up a Semi-Final with Canada, who were also looking to reach their first ever Cup Final.
With the All Blacks beating Fiji 19-14 in the first Semi-Final, it was starting to look increasingly likely that New Zealand would be one step closer to winning yet another World Series. However, first they would need to find out who they would play as Scotland came up against a Canadian side which has come on leaps and bounds in the past season.
As expected, it was a tough, physical game with Canada having a try disallowed in the last minute of the first half meaning the half-time score was still at 0-0. But come the 2nd half and the Canadians were the stronger of the two teams as they ran hard lines; eventually it was Phil Mack who found the gap to cross the line before converting his own try.
Unfortunately after that Scotland struggled to keep hold of the ball and when the Canadians got close to the 22 with 2 minutes to go, they opted to kick the penalty, taking the score to 10-0. Despite a last ditch attempt to gain something, Scotland could only cross the line after the hooter had gone as Colin Gregor made the break supported by Riddell who crashed over, making the final score 10-7 to the Canadians.
Although their hopes of a first Cup Final had gone, there was still the Third-Place Playoff against the Fijians. It was going to be a tough ask to get the Scots to produce another strong performance against Fiji after being physically and emotionally drained by the efforts against South Africa and Canada. They still showed good spirit to really push Fiji to the final whistle and thanks to tries by Chris Dean and Andy Turnbull, only a try in the dying embers of the game by Emosi Mulevoro meant that we would have to be content with 4th place.
HSBC ambassador and former Scotland internationalist Gavin Hastings summed up what this tournament means perfectly: “Where Scotland have profited is Nick and Richie coming in and adding to the squad. The team have a belief now, with London and Commonwealth Games ahead. It is great for the crowd to seeing them doing so well.”
Since I started doing these 7s reports at the start of the season, it has been easy to see just how much the Scots have improved with each tournament and although they walk away empty handed at their home tournament, Scotland produced one of their best ever performances by beating both Australia and South Africa whilst picking up 15 valuable World Series points that will really give the Scots a big boost ahead of the finale at Twickenham.
It may be unlikely that we will see a performance of the same calibre next week, however, this weekend the 7s team have proved their critics wrong to show that they can still perform at a high level of 7s and now we just have to hope that they will build on this momentum and go one step further at the Commonwealth games in the summer.
SRBlog Scottish Man of the Tournament: We saw a huge improvement from the whole side this week making this selection quite hard. Lee Jones scored some quality tries whilst Richie Vernon was a rock in defence. However, it must go to Scott Riddell who had an excellent all round performance all weekend and was also named in the official “dream team” for the tournament.
Attendance (over both days): 23,844