SCOTLAND’S match against Fiji in the closing clash looks set to be the highlight of the first day of the Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s at Scotstoun.
The hosts are in Pool C with the formidable South Seas stars, who currently sit second in the overall standings, as well as Portugal and Wales. The Scots will be hoping to register wins in their first two games and thus have qualification for the Cup quarter-finals in the bag before they face the Fijians this evening.
If this is, as looks likely, to be the last Scottish leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series for some time, then the host nation will look to go out with a bang both on and off the field. The latter has been partly taken care of with the news that both days were sold out with a week to spare.
The expected decision to replace Glasgow with a French event on the circuit from next season has prompted doubt over the future of the Scotland sevens squad. Ironically, this comes at a time when they are on course for their best-ever finish in the world rankings.
Under new coach Calum MacRae this season, the Scots are currently sitting seventh – having never previously placed higher than ninth – going into the final two rounds at Scotstoun and then Twickenham next weekend.
Scotland reached the Plate final in Dubai in December and the Cup quarter-finals in Port Elizabeth a week later. The first event of the new year in February saw them post their best performance of the season as they reached the Cup semi-finals in Wellington where they missed out on a first final when they lost 24-19 to England.
In March, the Scots secured their first silverware of the season as they took the Bowl – beating today’s opponents Wales 34-0 in the semis before knocking off France in the final.
Then, in Tokyo a week later, there was another Cup quarter-final, losing to series leaders South Africa.
In Glasgow this weekend, Scotland will be looking for a similar performance to last year, when they reached the Cup semi-finals – beating the Blitzboks in the quarters before a disappointing loss to Canada in the last four.
MacRae has made only two changes to the squad from Hong Kong and Tokyo, with Glasgow’s James Eddie coming in along with Gavin Lowe. The former Melrose, Edinburgh and Border Reivers player said: “In order to be successful at the sevens, it’s very important that you get a settled squad. You can add certain individuals to bolster it. But I think, with the work the guys have put in this year and the consistency they’ve shown, it would be wrong to make wholesale changes. The guys will be more motivated to find another gear this weekend knowing they’re in front of their home crowd.
“It’s always very special for a Scottish side coming home to play in front of a home crowd and it’s obviously bolstered by the fact it’s a sell-out over the two days. The boys are looking forward to maintaining the form they have shown this season so far. It’s nice to do it away from home but it means a lot more to the guys when they can do it in front of family, friends and a lot of passionate Scottish supporters.”
Scotland skipper Scott Riddell said: “We have a very tough group, but it’s one I know we can get out of and into the Cup quarter-finals on Sunday.
“We will need to ensure we don’t get overawed by the occasion, but we’re aiming to win at least two games in the pool and I’m really looking forward to it.”
While home attention will be on the Scottish bid to reach tomorrow’s Cup quarter-finals and a high placing in the standings, a tight race for the overall title is coming to the boil.
New Zealand have been the dominant side of late, winning the last four, but they are currently third on 120 points behind leaders South Africa (129) and Fiji (125).
The Kiwis and the pacesetters have been paired in the same group and will go head to head in the third last tie today.
Fourth-placed England, who won their first event of the season in Tokyo by beating South Africa 21-14 in the final, will hope to take another step towards securing Team GB an automatic berth at next summer’s Rio Olympics.
The English have been tasked with carrying the qualification hopes, with players from across Great Britain then eligible to make the final Games squad. If England are still in that top-four place after their home event next weekend, it will be job done. Their closest challengers, Australia – nine points behind in fifth – are drawn in the same pool in Glasgow.
England coach Simon Amor said: “One of the goals of the programme was to win a tournament. The guys have worked hard all year round and their effort and attitude has been outstanding. We have won and lost some close games and the reward of winning a tournament was good for the guys.
“But there were areas we didn’t quite get right which we have been working very hard at addressing and we are making sure we put ourselves in the best place possible to perform in Glasgow. Our pool will be a big challenge. Australia are an excellent team and they have played consistently well all season. They will bounce back after Tokyo and be incredibly strong because they have some very talented players.”
Amor added: “There is no doubt that the inclusion of sevens in the Olympics has made this season the most exciting there has been.
“Every team is doing all they can to qualify and taking their performances to a new level.
This weekend looks to be something of a bittersweet experience. Coming off the back of a stellar two days at Ibrox last summer during the Commonwealth Games, the sell-out Glaswegian crowd should produce a terrific atmosphere. In view of apparent developments in the corridors of power, however, the message to all of those going along today and tomorrow has to be “enjoy it while you can”.