THE future of Scotland’s participation in World Sevens rugby will be determined today when the Scots face Tonga in the first of the knock-out stages at this weekend’s IRB qualifying tournament at Twickenham, where eight countries are vying for three core places on next season’s IRB circuit.
The qualification tournament came about as a result of a “democratisation” of the World Series which has changed it from what many saw as a cosy club of 15 members to one where entry is by merit. The IRB change means the top 12 in any season now automatically retain their places on the World circuit, the next three places are determined by a qualifying tournament and the 16th position is at the discretion of the host country.
Scotland went into last weekend’s penultimate leg of the World Series level in 12th place with USA, but then blew their chances of automatic qualification by failing to reach the Cup quarter-finals in their home tournament at Scotstoun, in contrast to the Americans.
“This is not a situation we wanted to be in,” admitted Scotland sevens coach Stephen Gemmell, who yesterday watched his side win two of their group games, against Georgia and Zimbabwe, before losing to Hong Kong by a single point.
Fortunately, that defeat did not matter too much for the Scots, other than a dent to their pride, but victory against Hong Kong would have meant Scotland being top-ranked for today and would have secured a quarter-final against the weakest of the eight teams, Georgia.
Scotland, however – largely because of their big win over the Georgians by 29-0 after tries from Scott Riddell, Mike Fedo, Lee Jones and James Fleming – finished with a second ranking, resulting in a quarter-final tie against Tonga this morning. Scotland have lost to Tonga on the World circuit this season and their meeting with the Pacific islanders could be a potential banana skin.
“There were no medals being handed out today,” stated Gemmell. “What matters is the quarter-final. We have to win that. We didn’t play with enough intensity against Hong Kong and they certainly looked the side who wanted it more. But maybe that’s a wake-up call for the boys.
“We rested a few of our top players as we have to in a tournament like this. That gave others a chance but in the event they didn’t seize the opportunity.”
Scotland, too, were not too convincing against Zimbabwe, recovering from trailing 7-14 at half time with converted tries from Colin Gregor and Jones, their first half score coming from Riddell. Against Hong Kong, tries by Riddell, Chris Dean and Alex Glashan were not enough to stop Hong Kong winning 20-19.
Today the conditions for securing membership of next season’s World Series are clear. The two semi finalists will secure places on the next season’s circuit and the third place will go to the winner of the play-off between the beaten semi-finalists.