THEY haven’t enjoyed a vintage season on the IRB sevens circuit but after drafting three full international players in the shape of Lee Jones, Richie Vernon and Nick De Luca into the squad, Scotland did themselves proud yesterday at Scotstoun – perhaps some of that Glasgow magic rubbed off.
The day got off to the best possible start with a crowd-pleasing win over Australia by three tries to one and the home side followed it up with an even easier 26-0 victory over the USA in their second match. The organisers stuck Scotland’s final tie of the afternoon at the end of the day and Spain were duly swept aside.
The game was over almost before it had begun, with James Eddie muscling his way through the soft centre of the Spanish defence not once but twice in the opening three minutes.
Spain were working their way back into this game when Vernon intercepted and went the length to make it 21-0 at the break.
Three quick offloads saw Colin Gregor grab Scotland’s fourth, only for Spain to hit back with two tries of their own before veteran Andrew Turnbull showed his pace to finish this match off with Scotland’s fifth score.
That final victory saw Scotland through to the quarter-finals of the main cup competition that takes place today. The bad news is that they meet the hugely impressive South Africans first up, one of only two teams still in the hunt for this season’s HSBC championship title (New Zealand still head the standings).
Jones finished off several important scores but De Luca was the revelation, bringing the direct running that this Scotland squad sometimes lacks. He even popped up where you wouldn’t expect the centre to excel, grabbing two restarts in the opening tie and another two against Spain to give Scotland the precious possession that is nine-tenths of the short game.
Australia opened the scoring in the opening game when Cameron Clark went around Scott Riddell, who soon made amends with five points of his own at the opposite end of the field. Just moments later De Luca stole the restart and Colin Gregor was under the Aussie sticks again after good approach work from Eddie.
With one score separating the teams the second half was a nervy affair. The Scots worked hard to keep their line intact and with the last move of the match repeated attacks up the short side resulted in half a yard of space for Jones. The Selkirk man was tackled short of the line but not held and he bounced back to his feet to finish the move with some aplomb.
Scotland’s win against the USA was rather prosaic after the thrills of the first tie. Jones scored at the start of each half and De Luca stepped beautifully off his right peg to grab another try, with the fourth and final touchdown going to replacement Chris Dean, who needs a few more shredded wheat if he is to compete physically at this level. The USA never remotely threatened the Scottish line.
There was plenty to animate the crowd even when Scotland weren’t on the field. After being thumped 52-0 by Canada in their opening game, Japan were trailing England by a meagre two points early in the second half before the men in white ran away with the game, helped on their way by an interception try. Japan still managed a very creditable four tries against one of the favourites, every one more popular than the last with the partisan crowd.
The only two teams that can win this year’s championship swept all opposition aside until they met each other late in the day, with the Kiwis getting the better of South Africa in a belter of a game.
The teams were tied at 5-5 in the second half with nothing between them when tries from Akira Ioane and Ben Lam made it safe for the Kiwis. It was the tie of the tournament between the two best teams on show. It should have been the final and the crowd could yet get a rematch this afternoon.
Fiji and Kenya were also involved in a ding-dong battle that the islanders only won with a try after the whistle. They were below their best in that game but Fiji made no such mistake when playing against Wales, who were put to the sword by six tries to nil.
Canada found themselves on the wrong side of the crowd when the aptly named Connor Braid stopped Frenchman Terry Bouhraoua by grabbing a chunk of his long dreadlocks.
The referee failed to award the obvious penalty try and rather than pay for this insult Canada even had the cheek to score a short-handed try. They won that match and eventually won the crowd over with a 7-7 draw against England that was enough to see them top the group on points difference.
Thankfully for everyone involved, players, spectators and officials, the rain stayed away but then so too did the crowds, with the Scotstoun stands barely half full even when Scotland were playing. The home team are going to need all the support they can get today if they are to progress in the main tournament.