It’s amazing what a little Commonwealth magic dust can do to a sevens tournament. A few months ago, a mere 11,500 odd fans trooped through the gates of Scotstoun to witness Scotland finishing fourth in an IRB Sevens event.
Fast forward to Glasgow 2014 with almost identical teams competing (minus Fiji and France) and 50,000 raucous fans from all corners of the globe filled Ibrox Stadium with festive good fun.
They were rewarded with a gusty performance from the home team, who gave holders New Zealand a fright before losing their first match 17-14. The Kiwis have never been bested in four appearances in the short game at the Commonwealth Games and, at 17-0 up at half-time, they were cruising towards another easy victory before a brace of tries from Lee Jones and a pair of yellow cards for the Kiwis meant that they flopped over the finishing line, happy enough to bank the points.
“That was close, but we let them get away in the first half,” said double try scorer Jones after the match. “A seventeen point lead is always going to be tough to get back but they kept the ball but in the second half and cynically managed to break down a couple of attacks that could have led to tries. They got carded, but there were opportunities there.”
Jones scored his second touchdown against just five New Zealanders whose cynicism had rightly been rewarded with two yellows. There was even some controversy about one of the culpable Kiwis, forward Tim Mikkelson, returning to the field earlier than he should have. So he did but, since it was by just three seconds and had no bearing on the final score, the Scots wisely opted not to lodge a formal complaint. The truth is that the home side lost this match in the first half when they couldn’t – or more accurately, wouldn’t – hold on to the ball.
Scotland gave away their first two possessions when Scott Wight kicked dead and then kicked for touch and they coughed up plenty more to gift New Zealand the possession that almost inevitably leads to tries when the men in black get hold of the ball. Even in the second half, trailing by three points with the clock fast running down, the Scots desperately needed to win their own restart after Jones’ second score, but they opted to kick deep to the New Zealand’s favoured receiver, who took the ball without any drama.
The Kiwis also had the edge in attack where Ben Lam had the pace (he ran eleven seconds for 100m at school for goodness sake) and Sherwin Stowers had the side-step to rip open the meanest defence.
Scotland couldn’t afford another slip and they duly saw off the boys from Barbados 56-0 with first half tries from Bennett and Jones (twice), backed up after the break by further scores from Wight, Sean Lamont, James Johnstone, Stuart Hogg and Colin Shaw.
Whoever chose to finish these games at 10.30pm last night needs his or her head examined, but whoever chose Ibrox as the venue deserves all the plaudits. The football stadium seats fans right on top of the action and the tall stands keep the noise generated reverberating around the red-brick buildings.
At one point, the stadium host asked the crowd to make a noise and they managed a very credible 109 decibels, a deafening roar that was only exceeded when Scotland threatened to make history after scoring their second try against New Zealand and again when Uganda managed their sole touch down against Australia.
It wasn’t really a day for the minnows, with several lop-sided scores undermining the competitive nature of the tournament as a whole. Canada racked up a huge 68-5 score against Barbados just in case they drew with Scotland and needed the points to progress. Wales put 52 points on Malaysia, England put 57 past Sri Lanka and Australia racked up an eye-watering 62 points against the same sorry opposition.
With so many fans attending the Games produced something for everyone. There was a “Kiss Cam” which came into its own when one young English couple were brought on to the pitch, ostensibly as part of a competition, only for him to get down on one knee and propose. Thankfully, he got the answer he wanted.
There was even an appearance by Billy Ocean’s son’s Anthony Bayne-Charles, who lives and plays in London but qualifies for Barbados. Love really hurts without you... as the young newly-engaged couple might confirm.
Scotland were left needing to beat Canada in a match scheduled late last night to keep their hopes of adding to Scotland’s growing medal tally alive.