Russia will host the Rugby Sevens World Cup as the reigning European Champions after a strong showing in Marbella at the weekend was enough to hand them the title.
The second leg of the Europeans had seen England begin in pole position after dominating the first leg in Brive two weeks ago, but having made a raft of changes, a younger looking English lost two games in the pool stages, handing a chance to France, Spain and Russia to overtake them in the aggregate standings.
Russia grabbed the chance with both hands and a perfect pool round saw them beat Spain, Italy, Wales, Netherlands and Ukraine, before they headed into the Semi Finals high in confidence. Ireland were their opponents, playing in their first Cup semi-final at this level since they returned to international sevens, and in the end Russia had too much power and pace as they recorded a comfortable win before an even more convincing win over France in the final.
But while winning the European title so close to the World Cup will certainly be a big boost to the impressive Russians, it’s worth remembering that a number of sides used the two legs of this competition to rotate, rest and select new faces ahead of Moscow. England made nine changes for the second leg of the competition while Netherlands too – who ended up competing in the Bowl – were also missing lots of well-known faces in Marbella.
At the other end of the competition – Scotland and Ukraine were relegated from the top tier of European Women’s Sevens and they will be playing in Division A next season.
The performance of both seem to illustrate different lessons about where top level Sevens is going with their results showing that regardless how individually talented a squad may be, Sevens at this level requires preparation and lots of competition practice.
Ukraine though did prepare relatively well - they had a good tournament in Amsterdam - but Sevens at this level is changing - and changing quickly. Until a year or two ago top level Sevens was still largely based on speed and handling skills, dominated by wings and fast centres - and in Divisions A and B it still largely is.
But that is not the case at the top any longer. With improved training, the bigger, stronger players are catching up. They now have the speed and stamina, the hits are getting harder, the contact tougher and teams based on pure speed and finese are being overpowered.
While this competition for many sides was about fine tuning and final selection for the World Cup, for others it was an important building block on the road to developing their status in the international game – and many will have gone home satisfied. Ireland, in reaching their first major Cup Semi Final since 2006 cannot but be pleased with the measure of their progress in recent months, and France too have showed that they are making overall rapid improvements.
Wales too will be much happier with their second leg effort. Clearly benefiting from their experience in Brive two weeks ago, they beat the Netherlands and narrowly lost a closely fought Plate Semi against England, giving them much cause for optimism.
See here for the full results from the weekend
Bowl Winners: Netherlands
Plate Winner: England
Cup Winners: Russia
Overall European Series Winners: Russia