NO room for error. No second chances. At most sevens tournaments you can slip up, lose a pool game, and still get into the knockout stages, but not at these Commonwealth Games. With only the pool winners progressing to the quarter-finals, each match is crucial.
For Scotland, that means not only beating Papua New Guinea and Malaysia, but also getting the better of South Africa, who just happen to be top seeds for the whole competition. So even reaching the last four is a tall order, but one which captain Scott Riddell believes is not beyond his squad.
“We’ve got to aim for a medal,” he said. “We’re not going there to just compete. It’s something that is tangible; we know the process to achieve that goal. We need to top our group, which means winning all three games: South Africa, Malaysia, PNG. We’ve got to absolutely tear into it.”
Papua New Guinea are first about just before quarter to three tomorrow (Saturday) morning, then a break of around six hours before the second game against Malaysia, and then almost four hours in which to recharge the batteries before taking on South Africa. Riddell knows the drill, having competed in 2010 and 2014, but one thing he has not experienced is the joy of winning a medal – something he sees as a bit of unfinished business after the Glasgow Games four years ago.
“It’s my third Commonwealth Games and I’m now Scotland’s most experienced sevens player, which is pretty crazy,” the 32-year-old continued. “Just thinking back to when I started in 2009 it seems quite a while ago, to be honest. I’m trying to use all the experiences that I’ve built up to learn from things and see if they’ll hopefully rub off on the younger players.
“Delhi I was a non-travelling reserve, and then there was an injury to Dave Callam. The four guys on reserve were myself, Pete Horne, James King and Struan Dewar and I got the nod. I was working in Hartlepool for the RFU at the time and everything turned round and I got the shout to go. It was just amazing.
“Getting called in quite late, it all went over my head a bit. I was just absolutely loving being there, being part of it all, and it was a real marker in my career because it was part of something bigger and made me think maybe I could push on to the next level. I was just quite new to it.
“The following year I was made captain under Graham Shiel. And then the next four years I was selected in the squad to play in Glasgow and led the team out against New Zealand, which was amazing. That was just something absolutely unbelievable.
Glasgow was just crazy, the whole place buzzing for the Games. The tournament at Ibrox was amazing as well – I’ve never experienced an atmosphere like that again, just 45,000 people screaming for Scotland.
“But then there was a bit of disappointment at the end, having not done a bit better and given it the credit it deserved to get a medal for Scotland at home. So there is a bit of regret there as well from Glasgow.”
The Scotland squad that has travelled to Australia is a good blend between veterans such as Riddell and relatively raw talent like Darcy Graham and George Horne, The captain is convinced that those young players will rise to the occasion – and if they do, that dream of a medal will be that nearer to becoming a reality.
“They will absolutely love it. They will be absolutely buzzing. The guys coming in are great rugby players, Lee Jones was part of the Scotland squad during the Six Nations and he’s in ridiculous nick. You’ve got Darcy Graham and George Horne as well.
“The balance in the squad is really good. We’ve a lot of pace which you need in sevens and some really good playmakers and a bit of nous with Ruaridh Jackson, an international 10.”
COMMONWEALTH GAMES MEN’S SEVENS POOL A SCHEDULE
(Saturday, all times BST):
2.43am Scotland v Papua New Guinea
3.05am South Africa v Malaysia
9.15am Scotland v Malaysia
9.37am South Africa v Papua New Guinea
12.55pm Papua New Guinea v Malaysia
1.17pm South Africa v Scotland