Well it is fair to say the last season has been a roller-coaster for the national 7s team.
This time last year, the SRU were on the verge of cutting funding for the 7s programme following the decision to award Paris a World Series tournament ahead of Paris. Then, just as the team were looking forward to a long rest following a difficult season, London happened…
Despite the decision to keep funding the team, it was cut in resources so Scotland had to adjust with more youngsters from the XVs game coming in to bulk out the squad. When this season’s World Series began in Dubai in December, Scotland were “ones to look out for” after some impressive performances at the tail end of last season, including a couple of cup semi final places.
Unfortunately it reverted to business as usual as Scotland opened with a loss to South Africa 26-12. In the end, the team were demoted to the bowl competition and lost 24-14 in the final. However, the tournament had given three more inexperienced players some further game time on the circuit and so it seemed like time was needed to help them get used to the pro game.
Cape Town followed the week after and after another disappointing day 1, Scotland turned it around in the Bowl beating Samoa and Wales in the quarter and semi finals respectively before embarrassing England 19-0 in the final. As it would turn out, this would become an outcome more regular than in previous seasons…
Wellington was another example of opportunities lost as Samoa came out on top 19-7 in the bowl final and a week later, it was Canada that ended any hopes of picking up more silverware, this time 35-12 in the bowl semi.
Las Vegas has traditionally been a place of (relative) Scottish success in the past and it appeared to be going in the right direction when a couple of late tries sealed another win against England in the pools at 24-14. However, needing to beat Japan to progress to the cup, Scotland faltered and lost 26-19. In the end, Wales again came out on top in the bowl semi with Scotland left to ponder what might have been…
The following week in debut host city Vancouver, the Scots overcame a 43-0 humiliation at the hands of South Africa to reach the cup for the first time this year after defeating Argentina and Brazil. Nonetheless, Australia put an end to any further hopes of success, although it was close at 24-17.
Despite the usually favourable wet conditions at Hong Kong, Scotland slipped (in more ways than one) and Argentina ran away 26-0 victors in the bowl final. Going into Singapore, Scotland had not won a final since Cape Town in January. Was it time for the usual end of season comeback?
It didn’t start like that as South Africa again won big; 33-0 this time. Scotland then drew 12-12 with Kenya and despite winning their final pool game, once again went into the bowl competition. In the main competition, Kenya surprised everyone and won their first cup final that weekend; how different it would have been had Scotland scored an extra conversion…
After defeating Canada and England (again) on day 2, Scotland faced the USA in the bowl final and returned home with another trophy for the cabinet – this time running away with it 14-10.
After a short break, 7s returned to Paris and first up for Scotland was a Fijian team featuring the man-monster that is Leone Nakarawa in a fallow week for the PRO12. Unsurprisingly, Fiji prevailed, followed by a narrow loss to Samoa. Going into the bowl competition once again, Scotland finally started to show what they could do with a tight victory over the USA (14-12) in the semi final, before beating England 28-10 in the final.
And so a week later, we arrived at London, the final event of the season. At the same tournament last year, Scotland had a fairly successful weekend but the USA stole the show by winning their first ever World Series event.
First up were France and considering the slow start Scotland had, a 12-12 draw was possibly a fair result. However, the key victories came up next with strong victories against the usually impressive Kenya (24-12) where Scotland did the damage early on despite Collins Injera claiming the all-time try scoring record. Portugal who have stuttered this season were dispatched next by 31-14 to put Scotland into the cup knockout competition for just the second time this season. Relegated Portugal will be replaced by Japan next season.
These games had helped demonstrate exactly why Scotland topped the passing stats at more than 2,100 for the season. With Damien Hoyland drafted back into the squad for the final rounds, the Scots had a dangerous runner out wide on each wing (Farndale on the other), whilst James Johnstone and Scott Riddell were powerful as always in the centre of the park.
In front of their home crowd on Day 2, England faltered and Scotland progressed into the cup semi finals with a 17-0 victory over the hosts.
For the third tournament in a row, they now faced a dangerous USA team who had just demolished the All Blacks by 28 points and not for the first time in the season.
Scotland started the better team, but some lacklustre tackling gave the USA an advantage going into the closing minutes. Scotland were always a team looking to prove their counter-attacking qualities and managed to cross over twice with impact sub Dougie Fife scoring a brace. The final score: 24-17 and a date in the final with World Series runners up South Africa.
Considering this was Scotland’s first cup final in the competition’s 17-year history and with some of the rather embarrassing defeats South Africa had punished them with this season, it was no surprise that we went in as underdogs. South Africa were packed with pace and any small brushed-off tackle or minor misstep was highly likely to result in a score against.
But Scotland had something to prove. Although Senatla crossed first for South Africa, the Scots responded, first through Jamie Farndale and then captain Scott Wight, who scored from a driving maul of all things – a very rare sight in Sevens rugby.
With a precarious 10-7 lead at half time, things were looking good for Scotland but soon took a turn for the worse when Rosco Specman and Cecil Afrika scored following some poor tackling. It was taken at lightning pace, and showed the danger in the Blitzbokke ranks. Although Jamie Farndale responded with his own, try, Specman’s second with less than two minutes remaining gave the Blitzbokke a healthy 11 point lead and what seemed to be a guaranteed victory for the side who finished second overall in the Series standings behind Fiji.
Luckily for fans of the underdog, Scotland were not done. The currently unattached Dougie Fife scored thanks to a heavy Scottish overlap making the best of his power, and with Wight converting, the deficit was down to just four points. The buzzer had gone but there was one last opportunity if the kickoff could be tamed.
Scotland’s restarts had been poor all season, but just when it mattered, Wight deployed an odd sort of grubber and the ball was retained. The ball was kept tighter than usual with Riddell, on his 50th appearance, making the most yards one defiant run at a time. But after Wight made a desperate attempt for the line only to be hauled down, the ball came back out of the ruck and through quick hands the pass was made to Man of the Match Fife. Seconds later, he touched down and Scotland were deliriously celebrating their first World Series win.
Despite the fact that Scotland finished in 10th place on the HSBC World Series standings (as opposed to 7th last year) they actually only collected 2 points fewer, proving just how tight and competitive the Series has now become with 7 different cup winners across the 11 tournaments.
With the Olympics on the horizon, the five Scottish players involved will now link up with Team GB and compete in the European Series over the summer. However, some have wondered whether head coach Simon Armor would have been better off waiting an extra week with Hoyland (who is on the Scotland senior tour – Ed), Farndale and Johnstone in particular showing their full potential this weekend.
For Scotland 7s looking on, they must see this as an opportunity to build momentum during the off-season. Last year a good end of season failed to translate into wins the following season but something must be done to avoid a repeat of this. The USA won in London last year and finished in 5th this season.
Can Scotland do something similar?