THE Scotland Sevens squad flew from Dubai to South Africa today with fresh confidence from reaching their first cup quarter-final of the season but also with strong words from coach Stevie Gemmell for missing out on an even better finish.
The Scots began the HSBC World Series seeded 13th, but lifted their standing to 11th in the opening event in Australia. There, they had drawn with the host nation; this time they came from behind in Friday’s opening pool match to beat Australia. They lost narrowly to Wales and then beat Spain to reach the last eight, with a stunning last-gasp try by Andrew Turnbull.
The Scots’ unhappy knack of conceding early tries reared again on Saturday in the quarter-final against Fiji and they were three scores down before displaying their sevens quality with some excellent defence and by setting up Gregor Young and John Houston for two tries that brought the large contingent of Scottish supporters to their feet.
However, one error made while hunting the equalising score, at the end of a phenomenal tie in which 17-stone Fijians seemed intent on steamrollering 13-stone Scots, ended with Viriviri racing the length of the field to grab a 26-14 win.
Scotland later faced Argentina in the Plate semi-final and seemed to have that game in their hands after an early Lee Jones try, but despite good possession they failed to get the crucial second that would have secured a final spot, and Argentina hit back with a try at the end of the first half and another in injury time at the end of the tie.
Underlining how close the teams were, Fiji went on to humiliate favourites New Zealand with an historic eight-try demolition and ease past South Africa 29-17 to win the tournament, while Argentina beat Wales 21-5 in the Plate final.
“We’ve made progress, going from 11th to seventh equal here, so there are positives to take,” said Gemmell. “But the reality is that we lost two games on Saturday where individual errors cost us [against Fiji] and in the second game we were probably too passive [against Argentina], and you can’t do that at this level.
“Our game works and we’ve shown that we are capable against some of the best sides in the world of creating and taking opportunities, but again we’re conceding too many soft scores so we need to improve on this.
“I’m hard on the players, but they’re hard on themselves too and were very disappointed, and that’s probably a big step forward as well. In the past we’d probably have been quite happy to make the cup quarter-final and taken that as a step forward, but they genuinely thought they could have a crack at it against Fiji and, barring those errors, they were there or thereabouts. And we know we didn’t deliver what we’re capable of delivering against Argentina yet still were within one score.
“There’s confidence to take from Dubai but also a reality that we need to get better, starting this weekend in South Africa.”
Scotland are now ninth equal in the world sevens standings, the same as the national XV team’s IRB ranking, and head to Port Elizabeth to face France, Australia and Fiji in their pool, needing to win two ties to reach another cup quarter-final.
Scotland sevens squad: S Riddell, M Maltman, A Glashan, C Gregor (capt), J Houston, L Jones, G Young, M Robertson, A Turnbull, J Johnstone, J Ferguson.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE