Scotland could only make it to the bowl final in round 3 of the HSBC 7s World Series this weekend, crashing out to Samoa in the final (19-7). A tough draw with a pool including South Africa and New Zealand really set up a challenging weekend for a relatively inexperienced Scottish side.
The squad for this weekend included two 7s debutants in Glasgow’s Junior Bulumakau and BT Sport Academy player Nick Grigg, whilst Edinburgh centre Chris Dean returned to the squad. Former Melrose boy Scott Wight remained as Captain once again.
Thanks to some poor performances recently, New Zealand were drawn alongside South Africa in the pool, meaning that it was always going to be tough to qualify into the cup competition for day two. In the first game against South Africa, Scotland failed really to get into the game late on and by the time Bulumakau crossed to score on his debut, the hooter had already sounded. Final score: Scotland 5-28 South Africa.
Next up were hosts New Zealand, fielding a team including World Cup winning Sonny Bill Williams and Julian Savea’s younger brother, Ardie. New Zealand got off to the best start with a couple of quick tries and got lucky when Captain Wight’s potential try-scoring pass was deemed forward.
The All Blacks claimed a few more quick tries with Savea in particular impressing off the bench. Much like the first game, Bulumakau crossed right on the hooter, although by then, the score was already 27-5 to the hosts. Scotland would now do battle with Russia to decide who would get the better draw in the bowl competition.
Meeting the Russians for the third time in as many tournaments, Scotland made hard work of what should have been a fairly simple game. Gavin Lowe got the scoring going with a clever step to score but Russia quickly responded with a brace of tries to take a 5-10 lead.
Just on half time, Lowe crossed for his second and after the break the young man from Ayr completed his hat trick. Crucially, Wight converted these two tries and so even a late converted try by Russia was not enough to steal victory. The 19-17 win drew Scotland with Portugal in the bowl quarter-final on day 2.
Kicking off late on Saturday night back home, the Scots looked wide awake and tries from James Johnstone, Scott Riddell and Joseva Nayacavou helped contribute to a 17-0 half time lead. However, Portugal quickly got back in the game with speculative tries from Belo and Fernandes and the deficit was reduced to just five points.
However, winger Johnstone then scored an excellent individual try, throwing a dummy to burst through the red defence. Mark Robertson soon added his name on to the try-scoring sheet and Scotland held out for a 29-12 victory. Next up: Japan.
Still playing to a near-empty stadium, those that showed up were treated to a nine try, extra-time thriller. Scotland led 19-14 at half time thanks to tries from Grigg and a Jamie Farndale brace. However, following the break, the Japanese demonstrated their expansive attacking rugby and went up 26-19.
As the hooter sounded, the score remained the same, although Scotland were still in possession. After testing the defence, Nayacavou showed off his power to break through and offload to Nick McLennan, whose converted try took the game to extra time. Just three minutes later, it was Nayacavou who crossed to snatch victory.
The 31-26 win took Scotland to the bowl final against a Samoan side who have struggled for consistency this year. A more physical first half saw Samoa hold a small lead thanks to Hunapo’s try, although the Scots still seemed in touch.
However, the Samoan’s responded after half time with another brace of tries to put a Scottish victory out of sight. Nonetheless, Scotland continued to fight and eventually it fell to Lowe who scored to put himself out as his side’s top try scorer for the weekend. Final score: Scotland 7-19 Samoa.
This weekend’s performance has kept Scotland in 10th place on the HSBC 7s World Standings, just a single point ahead of Samoa and seven behind France. Next week, they will play Kenya, Russia and Series leaders South Africa in Sydney for round 4. The team made it into the cup competition last time round in Australia so will be hoping for some similar success this year.
Interestingly, the turnout was just 13,000 on day 1, a similar figure Scotstoun achieved over its final few seasons as a World Series host. Will New Zealand also be put under the same pressure as the Scots to improve turnouts in order to continue hosting the tournament? After all, Scotland only had the tournament for so long because of the country’s history of inventing the sport. Why should one of the world’s best still get to host a tournament if no one shows up?