Scotland 7s today achieved the extraordinary – again – by defeating hosts England 12-7 to retain the Cup trophy in the final leg of the HSBC World 7s Series in London.
A narrow defeat to France on Day 1 seemed to make this feat impossible given the opposition drawn for their quarter final, but with the Melrose trio of Mark Robertson and Scott Wight alongside coach Calum MacRae saying goodbye to the setup, anything appeared possible.
Scotland enjoyed an easy start to Day 1, comfortably defeating Russia 21-7 with it clear there was certainly more in the bag. Although the Russians struggled in defence on the flanks, significant pressure was exerted in the middle of the park, resulting in some unnecessary handling errors from the Scots. Nonetheless, the try scoring exploits of Robertson, James Fleming and Jo Nayacavou provided enough for victory.
A sterner a test came from an Argentinian side only marginally behind the Scots in the overall standings. The game remained tight throughout with no side holding the lead for that long. The score remained level at 5-5 by half time, although it took a strong showing late in the second half for Scotland to stretch out a lead, Fleming and Nayacavou again scoring the crucial tries. A late Javier Rojas try brought the score line closer, but the 26-19 final score secured Scotland’s place in the Cup Quarter Finals for the 5th time this season.
The final game of Day 1 was against last weeks hosts, France. Win and Scotland would face Canada first on Day 2; lose and New Zealand would be the opposition. Despite conceding a yellow card, France quickly jumped out to a 0-10 lead, although the assured combination of Robertson and Wight scored, narrowing the deficit to three by half time.
A raft of substitutions were made after the break and but it was one of the starters, George Horne, who was next to cross inching Scotland back into the lead. However, the ball was lost from the restart, allowing France to gallop the length of the field to score. Persistent mistakes in possession resulted in a final score of Scotland 12 – 17 France.
New Zealand it was.
Unbeaten versus Scotland in rugby history across either code, New Zealand were yet to win a series Cup trophy this season. However a lacklustre first half where Scotland leaked three tries through defensive errors appeared to move them one step closer to this target and 21-0 looked insurmountable. Then the second half started…
Dougie Fife, the man who scored a double in the final in London last year looked like he wanted to repeat this effort and, making the most of some good overlaps, crossed twice in quick succession for Scotland. The score had shifted to 12-21 and New Zealand now appeared to be getting on the wrong side of the referee.
If Scotland have anyone to thank it may well be the assistant referee on the main stand side who first flagged a fairly minor neck roll, giving Scotland the penalty that resulted in Jamie Farndale’s try with only seconds remaining.
With the hooter having announced full time, the assistant then (correctly) noticed that New Zealand were playing with eight players. Which meant another penalty, and the ball. On the pitch that Scotland sevens seem to love mounting second half comebacks on, Farndale crossed again with a man to spare outside and the comeback was complete.
Who ever thought New Zealand fans would complain about refs on twitter in a similar fashion to Welsh Pro12 supporters, or indeed us?!
The USA, champions in London in 2015, were up next in the Semi Finals. In a rather more cagey affair, the simple message for the Scottish defence appeared to be “stop Perry Baker”. Which is a solid strategy, given his pace. Nonetheless the lanky American winger broke through to cancel out an early Scottish lead, although some incredible defence by George Horne stopped it becoming a double.
Glenn Bryce and Baker again traded tries in the second half, leaving the score at 14-14 after 14 minutes. However, Scotland kept the ball in possession and eventually that man Nayacavou reached over the line. Time for a second Cup Final in as many weeks, and once again Scotland were finishing the season strongly.
You can watch the whole final here.
Having disposed of Canada 24-5, the hosts seemed to be the only team that could protect Scotland’s long-standing tag of underdogs. Indeed the first half was a demonstration of English power and speed; Dan Norton scoring one of the tries of the season by weaving around most of the Scottish defence.
This time last year Scotland came from two tries down, so with just seven points the deficit at the turnaround, anything was possible. Scotland struck early with Hugh Blake scoring a crucial first try of the tournament, converted by the ever-present Wight. Could history repeat itself?
With two minutes left, the tactic of risky offloads remained in use as Nayacavou again launched the ball over his head. Despite the risks which hadn’t paid off against France on Day One, the ball was reclaimed by Robertson who straightened and then released captain Scott Riddell who sprinted over in the corner. A nervous minute or so followed but after reclaiming the ball at a scrum, a magical victory was sealed.
This capped off a perfect send off for Robertson, who has remained a crucial part of the national 7s setup for the past decade. Teammate Wight, meanwhile, has provided huge stability both as a playmaker and a captain, despite making his national sevens debut later in his career. As such it was fitting that both were named in the official 7s Dream Team for the weekend. For coach Calum MacRae, this will provide great confidence and indeed pride as he joins the coaching setup at Edinburgh.
Performances like the ones over the last couple of weeks as well as a strong opening to the season (4th in Cape Town, 3rd in Wellington) have demonstrated that Scotland have the ability to compete right at the top given a consistent squad. If composure and consistency can be maintained throughout the entire Sevens Series as other sides catch up to traditional leaders New Zealand and Fiji, there is no reason why Scotland cannot challenge for the series title in the coming years.
SRBlog Scottish Player of the Tournament: Mark Robertson fittingly won the official award for his performance in the final (including popping his shoulder in a crunch tackle) and over the weekend the whole team played a crucial role in retaining the trophy. Although Nayacavou stood out for his try scoring exploits, our award goes to George Horne who has adapted extremely well to the shortened game and was a threat in both attack and defence.