Sevens: Scots braced for tense battle to beat drop

FORMER Scotland centre Scott Hastings fears the Scotstoun crowd could add to the nerves this weekend as the hosts bid to avoid relegation from the world’s top tier of sevens nations.

Colin Gregor is facing the biggest weekend of his Scotland Sevens captaincy. Picture: SNS
Colin Gregor is facing the biggest weekend of his Scotland Sevens captaincy. Picture: SNS

All eyes may be on the scintillating New Zealanders and whether they can again claim a world crown on Scottish soil, but after the IRB introduced a new promotion/relegation system this season, in an effort to open up the sevens world to more emerging nations, there is a new tension lower down the rankings.

When the Emirates Airline Glasgow 7s comes to an end 
tomorrow night, the core teams ranked 13th, 14th and 15th will head to the final tournament in London not to be part of the main event, but instead to play in an eight-team tournament with Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, Tonga, Russia and Georgia to compete for three spots in the 2013/14 Series.

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Scotland and the USA are currently tied in 12th place, on 46 points, meaning that whoever goes furthest this weekend will secure their top 12 place and the other will drop to 13th. Hastings has been following the series as a TV commentator and believes that the promotion-relegation race has been an added attraction.

“It’s really spiced up the whole series,” he said. “While New Zealand have been doing well at the top, one eye has undoubtedly been at the bottom end of the table all the way through.

“It’s such a thin margin between success and failure, and you only have to look back to the last tournament in Tokyo where USA beat Scotland in the Plate final. Colin Gregor missed a conversion in the group stages that would have relegated the USA into the lower competition and cost them points, so the margins are so slim.”

The Americans are in a pool with Russia, Wales and France, while the Scots face New Zealand, England and Portugal.

“The USA have got the better draw on paper,” added Hastings, “and there have been a few comments locally that Scotland being at home will inspire them, but I wonder if that will be the case because there will be a lot of nerves out there.

“England are focusing on the Sevens World Cup and so could be a banana skin, Portugal will be a feisty team and Scotland have never beaten New Zealand so you look at it on paper and would think that Scotland are not going to get out of their group.

“But Scotland have beaten England twice this season so they will take heart from that, and as far as I’m concerned Scotland have to qualify for the cup quarter-finals.”

Scotland coach Stevie Gemmell agrees, and he believes his squad, with the addition of 
Edinburgh’s Test wing Lee Jones and John Houston, and Byron McGuigan from Glasgow Warriors, will help their cause.

“Avoiding relegation would be our biggest achievement,” he said. “There has always been enough to suggest we shouldn’t be down here, as on our day we are capable of beating any team, and we have shown that.

“But I have said to the players, it doesn’t matter where we are, we can’t play the table, we have to play this as our home tournament and do our job.

“We have to play our rugby so the crowd can feed off that, and get behind us. They will be desperate for us to perform but we need to control that.”

Scotland will kick-off against Portugal this afternoon at 1.04pm, before taking on England at 4.10pm and finishing the first day’s action against New Zealand at 7.21pm.

Gemmell added: “We’re really looking forward to playing well in front of our home crowd.

“All we can do now is control our own preparations, how we turn up on Saturday and how we perform and that is all we will focus on from now.”