The Twickenham Miracle of 2016
In one of the most extraordinary finishes you’re likely to see in a game of rugby, Scotland stunned the fabled Blitzbokke four years ago to win their first ever World Sevens Series title, at Twickenham of all places.
A remarkable run of results over the weekend of 21/22 May 2016 culminated in the narrowest of victories over South Africa in a final in front of more than 50,000 attendees at the home of English rugby.
The final itself played out as if it were plucked from a fairytale script, Scotland coming back from the darkest depths of defeat to snatch an improbable and practically impossible victory with the weekend’s final act.
We caught up with four members of that historic Scotland squad to recount and reminisce about a truly special weekend of international rugby. Mark Robertson (MR) , Scott Wight (SW), Dougie Fife (DF) and Damien Hoyland (DH) have understandably precious memories of the ‘Twickenham Miracle’.
Having gone undefeated in Pool C with wins over Kenya and Portugal, allied to a 14-14 draw with France, Scotland moved into day two for a tie with hosts England. A 17-0 success, featuring tries from Hoyland, Robertson and James Fleming, set up a semi-final clash with USA.
In a show of things to come, the Scots grabbed two late tries through Dougie Fife, allied to Hoyland and Glenn Bryce scores and two Wight conversions, to squeak through 24-17 and set up their date with destiny.
MR: “The difference between 2016 and other seasons was that we took the emotion out of winning - we didn’t get too excited. We knew that could result in rash decisions on the pitch in the next game and it was also wasted energy in what is already a hugely taxing weekend. Instead we just focussed on doing the individual and collective things we’d all bought into over the course of the season again and again.”
DH: “It didn’t matter who we were playing in the final. It’s a one-off game of rugby and both teams will do anything to win, especially in a final, so anything can happen. We knew it was possible and we had the squad belief we could pull something special off.”
SW: “When you look at the stats no-one gave us a chance in the final. We were 11th in world, South Africa were third and at the time they had scored something like 365 aggregate points against us, compared to our 65. Also, we had only beaten them on two previous occasions, both in Scotland. So as a squad, we really had nothing to lose.”
Few gave Scotland a chance in the final, although hindsight would suggest that their name was destined to be etched onto the trophy after eliminating England and USA in the manner they did.
South Africa, perennial contenders for series events, took the lead in the final only for the Scots to nip ahead 10-7 at the interval through unconverted Jamie Farndale and Wight tries.
Nothing out of the ordinary, really. Everyone expected the Blitzbokke to surge back and true to form, they did just that. Tries from Rosko Specman (2) and Cecil Afrika, which were countered by a James Fleming score, had the match at 26-15 with little over a minute left on the clock. Game over. Surely. Scotland had done so well to get to the final and the weekend could be considered a success.
Great sporting tales are often created when the onlooker believes that all is said and done; all that remains is a formality and the notion of any other outcome is classed as impossible.
MR: “The difference between 2016 and other seasons was that we took the emotion out of winning - we didn’t get too excited. We knew that could result in rash decisions on the pitch in the next game and it was also wasted energy in what is already a hugely taxing weekend. Instead, we just focussed on doing the individual and collective things we’d all bought into over the course of the season again and again.”
Such commitment to their processes would stand the squad in fine stead in that final minute. Backs to the wall, they broke from deep, the ball passing through multiple sets of hands before Scott Wight put Dougie Fife in for the try that would spark one of rugby’s most unlikely comebacks.
SW: “At that stage in the game, no one was expecting it so as soon as Doug scores his first try and when I was taking the conversion I then started to scan the field - what was South Africa’s body language? Where were they on the field? I could see they were slow to reset.”
DF: “I can’t remember, there was so much chat going on. There were little looks between each other and we knew we had a chance. With 20 seconds to go, it was a mad rush to get back for the restart. Scott Wight then made that unbelievably brave decision to take a quick restart to himself and that gave us the chance to win.”
Wight’s slick thinking enabled the playmaker to dribble his restart the requisite ten metres and somehow win the breakdown to pop the ball to Fife. When James Fleming was held up out wide in the South African 22, Scott Riddell flung the ball to Fife who, aware of an advantage being played to his side, checked his run to crash over and help claim Scotland’s first ever World Rugby Sevens Series tournament win.
27-26. The stuff of wonder.
DF: “The crowd was pretty loud so I couldn’t hear much outside me! I saw a chance and when the referee called the advantage, that was my decision made, so I went for the try line.
“The initial reaction is hard to explain or put into words even now. I just kept shaking my head in disbelief! There was quite a long time from the final whistle to receiving the cup and some media before we finally all got into the changing room together. Just being with the squad and seeing messages from family and friends - that’s when it started to sink in.
“It’s a weekend I will never forget and definitely one of my proudest rugby moments.”
SW: “I would say I was never the quickest but I’d pride myself on game management and game understanding so I was always looking in every game for the easiest way for us to score points, win the ball back possession and territory.
“We just really had a never-say-die attitude and the contribution of the bench all weekend was tremendous. It was so special to see all that hard work paying off and was really humbling - an amazing day.”
MR: “Winning the final was surreal. During the game, we just stayed on script - individuals did the things they were good at. Scott Riddell taking the quick tap and throwing a crisp long pass, Flem tearing down the wing, Wighty’s quick tap (these were all things we were used to doing in training). It wasn’t until the final whistle that we realised what had happened. We’d achieved something we’d previously only dreamt about!
DH: “I don’t remember much about the final but the memory that jumps out at me is when Doug scored the winning try, and the whole bench cleared and we all ran on to the pitch to celebrate. That feeling, running on to the pitch to celebrate with some of my best mates, was a feeling that I may never experience again, and it was 100% on of the best days never mind in rugby, but in my entire life.”