ALFRED Hitchcock himself would have struggled to set up the sort of tightrope thriller that unfolded at Scotstoun Stadium yesterday afternoon, with relegation now on the agenda and qualification for next season taking place next weekend in London.
Coming into this tournament Scotland were tied 13th with the USA going in the last spot for the drop.
The Scots needed to finish the weekend ahead of their transatlantic rivals to guarantee themselves another 12 months of IRB Sevens rugby. If they finished below the USA the Scots would have to qualify next weekend in London against a host of ambitious nations including Zimbabwe, Georgia, Russia, Hong Kong and Tonga, along with Spain and Portugal who are sitting 14th and 15th in the current table.
Despite a reported 13,402 crowd through the Scotstoun turnstiles, Scotland were unable to translate home advantage into precious IRB points. The USA took advantage of being drawn in the easier Pool D to progress to the Cup quarter-finals after winning two of their three matches and consigning Scotland to today’s Bowl after the hosts lost heavily to both England and New Zealand.
This Scotland side must now qualify for next season’s IRB Series in a tournament that runs in parallel with the main event in London next weekend. Coming just after Scotland’s women’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup, Steve Gemmell’s players will be keen to make amends in today’s Bowl ahead of next weekend’s huge challenge.
The Scots got off to the best possible start with a thumping win over near rivals Portugal, who have caused them all sorts of problems in the past. Two tries from Colin Shaw, one in each half, got the home support on their feet before forwards Michael Fedo and Chris Dean added some icing to the cake with late touchdowns. All Portugal managed was a solitary try.
The bad news was that the USA were similarly dominant in their opening match against Russia, walking away with the tie by 48-5. Wales did their fellow Celts a favour by beating the States despite length-of-the-field tries by twin flyers Zach Test and Nick Edwards. Wales needed a score with the last play of the match and even then James Davies only just escaped the despairing tackle of Matt Hawkins to touch down and claim the five points and the vital victory.
Scotland faced the auld enemy in their next match and while England have not enjoyed their best season, they were never going to lie down and sure enough they didn’t.
Dan Norton opened the scoring after Lee Jones’ pass was intercepted and matters only got worse when Jeff Williams doubled England’s advantage just minutes later after the Scots failed to secure their own put-in at a set scrum. Shaw and Fedo combined beautifully up the right flank to send the latter in for a score but Williams grabbed his second before half time to give England a 19-7 lead at the break.
If the match wasn’t decided in the first half it was all over shortly after the restart when Marcus Watson ran almost the length of the field to give the Scots a 24-7 mountain to climb. They never looked like getting beyond base camp, Christian Lewis-Smith adding to the Scots’ pain after intercepting and going the length for England’s fourth and final try of the match. To add injury to insult, Scotland’s speedster Andrew Turnbull dislocated a finger in the last play of the game, missed the final match yesterday and is a doubtful starter today.
With a tough-looking final fixture against New Zealand, a team they have yet to beat on the IRB sevens circuit or anywhere else for that matter, the Scots were looking for favours from elsewhere. Either Portugal would have to beat England to push the Scots into the Cup on points difference or France would have to restrict the USA to the Bowl competition by beating them.
Neither event happened. England hit their stride at just the right time to put eight tries past a tiring Portuguese team and the USA did what they had to do against France, winning by 21-14 to join Wales in the main Cup competition today.
Scotland continued their long losing run against the Kiwis, going down by 28-0 after a hat-trick of tries from Sherwin Stowers. New Zealand oozed class and they will go into today’s action as favourites to win this tournament and this season’s series.
Scotland play Spain in today’s Bowl but they will have one eye on the all-important qualifiers in London, where they need a top-three finish to play in next season’s series.