SCOTLAND have been handed a great chance to make an impact in the Commonwealth Games rugby tournament, despite being drawn with gold medal favourites New Zealand.
The pool draw for the sevens event, to be played at Ibrox Stadium on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 July, was published yesterday and to qualify for the knockout stages and have a chance of featuring among the medals Scotland must finish in the top two in their pool. New Zealand, four-times Commonwealth Games champions, will be expected to take top spot in Group A, but the Scots will also face Canada, currently one place below Scotland at 13th in the world rankings, and African qualifiers Nigeria.
The draw was made behind closed doors and appears very likely to have been teed up neatly for the hosts, who have reached the last eight only once in three HSBC world series events so far this season, in Dubai last month.
But head coach Stephen Gemmell, currently preparing the full-time squad for their fourth world tournament in Las Vegas at the end of the month, admitted that seeing the Commonwealth Games draw had lifted excitement and anticipation levels. He is aiming to build up the quality and experience in the squad over the next few months with a view to making a serious bid for medals in front of a home support, which would be the biggest result for Scottish sevens rugby in Games’ history and timely with the abbreviated game entering the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016.
He said: “With the teams [draw] being announced it brings the timescale towards the Commonwealth Games into sharp focus and this is something we’ve been looking forward to for a number of months now. It’s an exciting pool that we are in. First of all New Zealand have set a high standard in the Commonwealth Games, winning the gold in every tournament and doing so unbeaten. Canada we know well and have had some close games with in recent years so that will be a key game in terms of where we finish in the pool. Nigeria will be a typical African sevens team with lots of power and pace.
“It’s great hearing the pools today and there will now always be one eye on the Commonwealth Games, but we still have the World Series as our focus at the moment. The draw also adds an extra incentive to the times we will play New Zealand and Canada in the circuit, starting with New Zealand in our group in Las Vegas. Looking at the teams that have been announced today and hearing about the number of spectators that will be in Ibrox, it’s clear it’s going to be a wonderful event to be a part of and we will be doing everything we can to make the country proud in July.”
Technically, the Games should be slightly easier to be successful in than the world series as Argentina, USA, France, Spain and Russia will not be present, while Fiji and Tonga are also missing. But the rest of the big names from world rugby and the sevens circuit will be in Glasgow.
South Africa top Pool B with Kenya, Cook Islands and Trinidad and Tobago, while Samoa, Wales, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia are in Pool C and England have been pitched in with Australia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
Greg Warnecke, Head of Sport at Glasgow 2014, said: “Glasgow will welcome many of the world’s best Rugby Sevens nations to compete at the Games. The standard of competition will be world-class, the action is fast-paced and with all of the teams playing in each session of competition, it guarantees a feast of rugby action and a brilliant atmosphere all round.”
IRB Chairman, Bernard Lapasset, said: “For 16 years now Rugby Sevens has enjoyed being a key part of the Commonwealth Games. To compete alongside their compatriots in a multi-sport environment is a matter of huge pride and honour for our rugby players, who are making giant strides in this new Olympic era. We wish our rugby athletes all the best in this magnificent international event.”
The full competition schedule of fixtures will be announced next month.
Pool A: New Zealand, Canada, Scotland, Nigeria
Pool B: South Africa, Kenya, Cook Islands, Trinidad and Tobago
Pool C: Samoa, Wales, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia
Pool D: England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda