Scotland 7s today fell agonisingly short of claiming another piece of silverware after New Zealand scored in injury time to break the deadlock and win the Plate Final in the 7th round of the HSBC 7s World Series in Tokyo.
After claiming the Bowl in Hong Kong the week before, a tough group draw with New Zealand and Australia suggested that this would again be the Scots best chance of success with only the top two teams qualifying for the Cup competition on day 2.
And it seemed like this was going to be the case as Scotland struggled to get out of the blocks in the early kick-off with the All Blacks dominating possession, territory and the scoreboard as they cruised to a 38-0 victory. Tries from Tim Mikkleson (2), Sam Dickson, Joe Webber, Sherwin Stowers and captain DJ Forbes meant that Scotland’s input in the game was even more limited than that of Northampton in their 37-5 destruction by Clermont. For the Scots, a win was now essential against Australia to hold any chance of qualifying for the Cup.
But with some rest, it was like a different Scotland showed up against the Wallabies as two quick tries from Colin Gregor and James Johnstone helped form an early 14-0 lead. However, either side of half time two quick tries from the Aussies (courtesy of Con Foley and Nick Malouf) meant that with less than two minutes left, the scores were level. James Fleming chipped in with a fine defensive effort and after a relentless attack, Australian captain Ed Jenkins saw yellow, allowing Gregor to take the simple penalty in front of the posts. Scotland took the win 17-14.
Their place in day 2’s Cup draw was in sight with only Portugal standing in their way; normally a simple game, although Portugal defied the odds to snatch a victory against Australia, making this the 2nd-place decider. And both teams made this a battle worth watching as Fraser Lyle crossed first, the recipient of Nyle Godsmark’s 50m attacking break.
With Portugal suffering from a sin binning, Damien Hoyland crossed twice with Gregor converting the latter try, although Portugal continued to threaten with two tries of their own. However, the Scots held off to win 17-12 and confirm their place in the Cup quarter-final stage, going up against South Africa.
Day 2 came although Scotland started in the same sluggish fashion, eventually going down 22-0 to the World Series Leaders. Unable to effectively defend the wide channels, the Blitzboks had no problem scoring through Kwagga Smith and Seabelo Senatla. Cecil Afrika and Justin Geduld also crossed taking more direct routes.
This defeat meant that Scotland dropped down into the Plate competition where they would take on hosts Japan, who were in their first Plate semi-final since 2000 after defeating Samoa and drawing with Argentina on day 1.
With the Brave Blossoms looking to live up to their name by making the home support proud, the game remained fairly tight with neither team willing to take any major risks. With seconds left on the clock, Scotland lead 7-5 after Gregor converted his own try in the first half. However, James Fleming then produced one of the tries of the tournament as a little chip from his own 22 on the hooter gave him a clear route to the line and with the chase beaten, the converted try meant that Scotland were into the Plate final off the back of a 14-5 victory.
After a surprise defeat to Canada in the Cup quarter-final, the All Blacks found themselves languishing in the Plate competition and their victory over France meant that the two teams would once again face up, although there was now a lot more at stake.
Lee Jones was first to cross for the Scots after some impressive footwork allowed him to cross from short range. Stowers was next on the scoreboard for New Zealand with a converted brace of tries, however, Gregor had the vison to score from a quick tap and with his conversion being successful, he moved up to 4th place on the all-time scoring charts for the World Series, overtaking Fijian legend Waisale Serevi who sits on 1,310 points.
The scores were now level and as the hooter rung around the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground, New Zealand sat with a 5 metre attacking scrum and with the slippery conditions, Dylan Collier was able to cross, giving the All Blacks the Plate in fairly dramatic circumstances, although Scotland more than made up for their previous meeting with the victors on day 1.
Following the game’s conclusion, head coach Calum MacRae commented: “There is a mixture of emotions in the dressing room, disappointment to lose at the hooter against New Zealand, but also pride in the hard work that has got us into the top competition
“We’re working teams far harder when they have got the ball and developing trust has taken time, but I can now see a defensive unit forming.
The World Series takes a short break, but will return in May at the (final for at least 4 years) Glasgow 7s (May 8th/9th).
Looking ahead, MacRae said “We are evolving every tournament and we are now heading home for the Glasgow 7s. Coming home for the Scotland leg of the circuit is something the players have looked forward to all year.
“After so many fans came out to support them at the Commonwealth Games, we aim to put in a performance that family, friends and Scots can be very proud of.”
However, if you can’t wait that long, remember that the Kings of the 7s Series is now in full swing down in the Borders. Next weekend (11th April) is the Melrose 7s with visiting teams including Glasgow Warriors, Wasps and Hong Kong. If you are unable to make it, the day is shown live on BBC 2 Scotland and we will also be reporting on the day.