As Scotland head coach Frank Hadden targets the IRB Rugby World Cup clash against Italy in September as one of the key fixtures of his Rugby World Cup campaign, Scotland 7s head coach Stephen Gemmell is approaching his sideâ€™s first clash of the Emirates Airline London Sevens this weekend with the same verve. Speaking from the team hotel near Heathrow Airport, Gemmell spoke of the importance of their opening game, which kicks-off at the new-look 82,000 capacity Twickenham Stadium at 10:50am.As Scotland head coach Frank Hadden targets the IRB Rugby World Cup clash against Italy in September as one of the key fixtures of his Rugby World Cup campaign, Scotland 7s head coach Stephen Gemmell is approaching his sideâ€™s first clash of the Emirates Airline London Sevens this weekend with the same verve.
Speaking from the team hotel near Heathrow Airport, Gemmell spoke of the importance of their opening game, which kicks-off at the new-look 82,000 capacity Twickenham Stadium at 10:50am, and what it would mean for the teamâ€™s continued progress in the IRB Sevens World Series, should the score go their way: â€œItaly are our base camp, if you donâ€™t reach base camp then youâ€™re not going to be able to start the climb.
â€œTheyâ€™re a bit of an unknown quantity to us, they played in Hong Kong but the majority of their squad is made up of new players [only one player from Hong Kong remains], which means itâ€™s really difficult to do any analysis of them.
â€œWe had a look at them in Hong Kong, but for us, being one of the top two seeded teams in the pool, it has to be all about yourself. If we get our bit right for 14 minutes then Iâ€™m confident we can beat Italy.
â€œThe big difference, and the big challenge is that if we donâ€™t get it right, we put ourselves under real pressure moving forward into our next two games against Kenya and New Zealand, and to some extent, that is the same as Frank and the national squad for the World Cup â€“ we know this is the key game for qualification for the quarter-finals of the Cup competition on Sunday,â€ he added.
On the squadâ€™s preparations since arriving in London on Wednesday, Gemmell continued: â€œWeâ€™ve trained really well this week. We had a hit-out [training match] against Wales yesterday which we needed just to get some of the cobwebs blown away. The captainâ€™s run today also went really well and there is some real enthusiasm in the squad to do something really special. What Iâ€™ve said to the boys is that the last three tournaments now count for nothing, itâ€™s about what this group of players do now.â€
Gemmell has drafted in three new players to the squad that travelled to Hong Kong and Adelaide, with Scotlandâ€™s top points scorer in IRB Sevens tournaments, Colin Gregor, making his first appearance of the season along with Edinburgh Rugby utility-back Ben Cairns. The squad also welcomes Mark Robertson back to the squad having recovered from a wrist injury.
â€œAs Iâ€™ve said before, we have a strong group of players here that are inter-changeable and, more importantly, all of whom have sevens experience, and what that lets you do is move your game on a bit. What weâ€™ve had to do throughout this year is maintain our game, but what weâ€™re looking to do over the next two weekends is move it on because we now have a group of players who know what weâ€™re looking for.â€
Although the opening encounter with Italy is in the forefront of Gemmellâ€™s thoughts, he admits he does have the following two games in the back of his mind: â€œMy mindset as a coach is that you always have to be looking ahead, you have to plan the game, you have to think about whoâ€™s right to play at that particular time and in that particular game. So weâ€™ve looked at Kenya and New Zealand, but the players are focussed on their first game and thatâ€™s Italy.
â€œItâ€™s an old school frame of mind but itâ€™s relevant to a tournament where youâ€™re playing three games in just one day.
â€œKenya were Cup semi-finalists in Adelaide, so people who underestimate them do so at their peril and New Zealand, who have drafted in three Super 14 players, know that if they win the next two tournaments, theyâ€™ll not be a million miles away from winning the series. Part of that is winning all their pool games and we happen to be one of those teams.
â€œYouâ€™ve got at least three teams that are gunning for the World Series title (Fiji, Samoa and New Zealand), one of whom we play on Saturday. Weâ€™ve said we want to be in amongst these guys, so it starts tomorrow and we need to get it right.â€
The IRB Sevens World Series reaches its finale in Edinburgh next weekend (2 & 3 June) at the Emirates Airline Edinburgh 7s at Murrayfield and the squad are looking to give their country something extra to cheer about amongst the party atmosphere: â€œNext week is a huge weekend for us,â€ Gemmell continued, â€œall of the squad are looking forward to it massively, it good to be at home. Weâ€™ve been all around the world and people havenâ€™t been able to see us up-close yet. There are a lot of friends and family down this weekend and there will be even more next weekend â€“ we want to show everyone that Scotland 7s have arrived. That wonâ€™t be easy because I look around the hotel this week and I would say every squad is stronger that what they have been all season.â€
In the final leg at Murrayfield, the Scots have been drawn against current fourth place side South Africa, who lifted the Emirates Airline Dubai Sevens title in December with a 31-12 win over New Zealand in the Cup final. Completing the pool are Canada and Hong Kong Sevens Bowl-winners, Russia.
Tickets are available now for the Emirates Airline Edinburgh 7s at the great value price of only Â£10 for one day or just Â£15 for both (with FREE concessions on all pre-booked tickets).
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Scotland 7s squad for the Emirates Airline London Sevens at Twickenham (26 & 27 May) and the Emirates Airline Edinburgh 7s at Murrayfield (2 & 3 June): Mike Adamson (Glasgow Warriors & Glasgow Hawks), Ben Addison (Glasgow Warriors & Stirling County), Ben Cairns (Edinburgh Rugby & Currie), Simon Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Forrest (Border Reivers & Hawick) CAPTAIN, Calum Forrester (Glasgow Warriors & GHA), Roddy Grant (Border Reivers & Gala), Colin Gregor (Glasgow Warriors), Mark Robertson (Border Reivers & Melrose), Colin Shaw (Glasgow Warriors), Colin White (Glasgow Warriors & Ayr)
The draw for the Emirates Airline London Sevens (26 & 27 May): Pool A - Fiji, France, Argentina, Russia Pool B â€“ Samoa, Australia, Canada, Georgia Pool C â€“ New Zealand, Scotland, Kenya, Italy Pool D â€“ South Africa, England, Wales, Portugal
Scotland 7sâ€™ fixtures on day one (Saturday 26 May) of the Emirates Airline
10:50am, Scotland 7s v Italy 7s
1:56pm, Scotland 7s v Kenya 7s
5:35pm, New Zealand 7s v Scotland 7s