It was a difficult weekend as an injury-depleted Scotland 7s squad came 11th in the heat of Las Vegas. In a tournament spread over three days, the team failed for the second successive tournament to qualify for the Cup competition, instead finishing up as Challenge Trophy semi-finalists.
With news confirmed that stars James Johnstone and Gavin Lowe will miss the rest of the season, this week’s squad included four players with fewer than ten World Series caps to their name. That quartet included the pair of Sean Kennedy and Tom Brown – surprise inclusions in the squad considering their importance to the Edinburgh squad – while London Scottish’s Ally Miller prepared for his 7s debut.
Day One appeared a tough one for Scotland; in form Australia and Fiji were drawn in the same pool and a win against at least one would be required to make it through to the Cup draw the next day. Things looked promising early on as Scotland led Australia for 13 minutes, with Mark Robertson and Jamie Farndale impressing.
However, in a scenario seen as often in XVs between the two sides as 7s, Australia scored and converted through Nicholas Malouf and on the hooter retained their own restart, soon providing Ed Jenkins the opportunity to cross and deny Scotland the draw. A 21-28 defeat may appear a good result against the Australians, yet this was a crucial game to win.
Olympic gold medallists Fiji were next up and despite only going in 5-10 down at the break, the sheer power of the Fijians was soon displayed for all to see. Farndale’s third try of the tournament offered some hope late on, yet the 24-12 defeat confirmed Scotland’s place in the Challenge Trophy on Day Two.
Given the unusual format, Day Two began with the final round of pool fixtures and for Scotland, a meeting with Japan.
Former captain Scott Wight demonstrated his experience to score twice early on whilst adding the conversions and Farndale continued his form from the previous day to help Scotland to a 19-0 half-time lead.
Looking to secure a position as top seeds in the Challenge Trophy, a couple more tries came via James Fleming and Hugh Blake, who was returning in a Scotland shirt following a loan period in New Zealand and a long injury layoff. The 33-7 victory was enough to secure a quarter-final meeting with Wales.
Scotland scored first but Wales looked the stronger of the two sides, scoring three tries to give themselves a 7-21 lead with half time approaching.
Desperate not to crash out again at this stage of the tournament, Scotland responded with Dougie Fife scoring first before Farndale scored his sixth of the weekend. With time running out and the scores even, former Edinburgh wing Fife dotted down out wide to set up a semi-final with Samoa.
Alas this was where the Scottish comeback came crashing to a halt as the attack failed to make any inroads against the strength of the Pacific Islanders. The Samoans made the most of every limited opportunity with the ball in hand and romped to a 0-24 win. In the City of Lights, Scotland’s luck eventually ran out.
Given the tough pool draw and the number of injuries, it would have been hard for Scotland to wish for much more, yet the narrow defeat to Australia was certainly frustrating and demonstrated the side’s ability to continue competing with top teams that saw them placed 4th in the series table at one point.
The Scots now slip down to 7th on the overall standings, yet remain in touching distance of Australia and the USA, in 5th and 6th respectively. This weekend, the circuit moves north to Vancouver where Scotland have been drawn with New Zealand, Canada and Russia.
Scotland v Canada 7s matches traditionally have turned into tight contests but the pressure will be on the Canadians to perform in front of their home crowd. For Scotland, a Cup quarter-final is certainly not impossible.