In a pleasant change for Scottish rugby fans there were several highlights from last season. The national team finished one minute away from a World Cup semi-final, and the Under-20s thumped England in the Six Nations then bested Australia in the World Championships.
But these are also-rans, left lying on the floor of the editing room, because there is only one candidate for the stand-out performance and it goes to the sevens squad. After decades of achieving exactly zip, the country that invented and exported the short game secured their first ever tournament victory, and at Twickenham of all places. If only briefly, Scotland were on top of the rugby world, which is not something we have been able to claim too often.
Not only did the Scots win, they did so in dramatic fashion with two tries in the final 75 seconds against South Africa’s “Blitzboks”, who were runaway favourites. Both tries were team efforts but it fell to Dougie Fife to finish them off and he was dubbed Player of the Final for his efforts. It must have been a bitter-sweet moment for the man who had only recently been told he was unwanted by Edinburgh Rugby.
“I already knew at that time that I wasn’t going to be at Edinburgh,” Fife recalls, “and in my head sevens was what I was hoping and planning on doing, so to be in that environment and to do so well, it was really good for me and [coach] Callum McRae.
“Then to get offered a sevens contract, which I pretty much grabbed, because obviously the way Edinburgh were playing and the way it was going it wasn’t really working for me. Getting involved in the sevens freshened me up and gave me a new incentive to be honest. Edinburgh were kind of restricted in how we were playing at times and it was getting a bit ‘same old’ and the sevens was refreshing.”
Even now I occasionally look out the video on YouTube and listen to Scott Hastings’ superb commentary which expertly summarises what we were all thinking after a late score from South Africa appeared to slam the door in Scotland’s face.
“One minute and a quarter to go and two tries needed,” said Hastings. “It’s almost impossible.” What were the players thinking?
“Flem (James Fleming) ran in a try and then South Africa scored again and in our heads we are thinking, ‘jeez, we got bloody close’!” says Fife. “But then things just seemed to work for us. I remember we went wide and Mark Robertson made a burst down the left-hand side and we scored pretty quick.
“And then there was picture of me looking up at the big screens to see how long we had got and it was pretty much red. I remember I was looking and there was two seconds... one second and then Scott Wight took a quick kick off and there was no time to think really.
“The way we normally set up is that we would get back and wait for him to give the call but before telling anyone he just used his instinct and put that little grubber through. He caught everyone off guard but managed to dive on the ball as well. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone do that before.”
The sevens circus kicks off again in Dubai on Friday with the Scots, almost inevitably, drawn to face South Africa first up before facing the USA Eagles, their semi-final victims from London. The squad has been in training since August so they will be champing at the bit to get going and prove, fingers crossed, that they can repeat London’s heroics.
Fife reveals that he hasn’t given up on receiving a recall from Edinburgh and with the team under new management he might even get it, but the winger isn’t getting ahead of himself because the abbreviated game has not only given him a new lease of life but supplied the greatest moment of his rugby career to date, and that from a man who has scored a Six Nations try in Paris.
“To score a try for your country in fifteens is unbelievable, but the fact that we made history playing for Scotland winning a tournament, it was massive and in [some] terms Twickenham might have been even bigger for me, winning a tournament for Scotland.
“The two tournaments before London were Singapore, Kenya won that, and Paris, and Samoa won that one. We had a pretty serious meeting in London before the tournament and we reminded ourselves that these were two teams that we have beaten in the past quite regularly and if they can do it why can’t we just do it this weekend. Teams like that winning these cup comps gave us a lot of belief, why not us?”