Rugby sevens: Scotland forced into qualifying event

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FOR a “day-after” party, this Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s produced terrific excitement, a stunning late victory for South Africa and an 11th world title for New Zealand, but the 2013 event will be remembered as the one where Scotland slid off the world stage.

The main event was done and dusted on Saturday from a Scottish perspective when Stevie Gemmell’s team were well beaten by England and New Zealand and slumped out of the cup competition.

Combined with the USA’s continuing rise in world sevens and their qualification for the cup quarter-finals, that left Scotland as the first victims of the IRB’s new promotion/relegation system.

Scots have regularly led the way in rugby firsts, but this pioneering act means they will play a second-tier event at Twickenham while the world series comes to an end next weekend. A qualifier for next season’s world series, Scotland will play in an eight-team tournament with Portugal, Spain, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Tonga, Russia and Georgia, vying for the three available spots.

On Saturday, the Scots defeated Portugal but were then made to look distinctly second-tier by the English – whom they had beaten twice this season – and New Zealand, in terms of skills, pace and sevens nous. The SRU’s plan to beef up the sevens strength by employing former English coach Phil Greening backfired spectacularly as he ultimately led the Scottish team to a series of poor early showings in the series, which Gemmell made a good effort to haul back but came up short in this final event.

In truth, Greening might still have been in charge had he not had a fall-out with a member of staff, which is what forced his departure, but his impact was to give Scotland a mountain to climb to preserve their “core nation” status in world sevens.

The team, captained by veteran Colin Gregor, came out fighting yesterday to score a 31-5 win over Spain which featured tries by Gregor, Colin Shaw, Chris Dean, Lee Jones and Michael Maltman. There was defiance about that display which augured well, but instead was false promise as they were then blown away by Kenya in the Bowl semi-final.

Tries by Felix Ayange and Biko Adema (2) left the Scots 19-0 adrift at half-time and, although Jones grabbed the first score after the break – the Edinburgh and Scotland winger used the sevens stage to remind supporters of his genuine talent – Kenya responded through Willy Ambaka which meant late scores by Alex Glashan and Byron McGuigan were of little consolation.

Gregor strove to inspire, John Houston was a solid presence, Jones showed his sevens nous and there were flashes of promise from youngsters Dean and Glashan in particular, but the Scots’ restarts, handling and phase-play ranked them firmly among the also-rans in this tournament, and ultimately proved that their relegation was not a mistake.

In the main event, New Zealand cruised to the final but then were shocked when an impressive South Africa team came back with two late tries by Philip Snyman and Cornal Hendricks, adding to a first-half score by Seabelo Senatla, and exploiting the sin-binning of Sherwin Stowers, to claim a 28-21 victory and the Glasgow title.

England beat Wales 24-21 to claim third spot, while the USA again triumphed in the Plate, this time overcoming Argentina 17-7 in the final, and Australia defeated Kenya 12-5 to win the Bowl.

There was also a flash of Scottish club sevens talent to delight the crowd with the “Kings of the Sevens Select” from the Borders circuit defeating the “Legacy Sevens Select” from the central belt 29-15 in a one-off tie, even though many Borders players were not available as they chased the £2,500 winner’s pot in the Kings series at Earlston.

As for the Scotland team, however, they will regroup for Twickenham and showed in defeating Portugal and Spain that they have the ability to avoid further embarrassment and qualify for next season’s world series.

But, with just over a year to go until the Commonwealth Games, Scotland’s bid to figure among the medals currently seems a distant dream.

And there is work for new director of rugby Scott Johnson on the wider picture, too. Among the key aims when new funding was pledged to the sevens game, was to use the abbreviated game to help to develop full 15s professionals and internationalists, improve skill levels generally and take rugby to new communities, but we are still waiting to see evidence that it has made inroads into any of those areas.

Results

CUP

Quarter-finals: South Africa 22, United States 5; England 15, Fiji 12; Wales 26, Canada 7; New Zealand 42, Argentina 10

Semi-finals: South Africa 24, England 17; New Zealand 26, Wales 14

Third place play-off: England 24, Wales 21

Final: South Africa 28, New Zealand 21

PLATE

Semi-finals: United States 22, Fiji 7; Argentina 22, Canada 7

Final: United States 17, Argentina 7

BOWL

Quarter-finals: Samoa 17, Russia 14; Australia 36, Portugal 0; Kenya 22, France 7; Scotland 31, Spain 5

Semi-finals: Australia 17, Samoa 12; Kenya 24, Scotland 19

Final: Australia 12, Kenya 5

SHIELD

Semi-finals: Russia 41, Portugal 7; France 41, Spain 0

Final: France 21, Russia 17