A year after being forced to miss the 2022 European 7s series, Ukraine returned to international sevens this weekend in triumph, winning the first leg of the European Trophy.
In 2021 Ukraine won the European Trophy, and with it automatic promotion back to the top level European Championship from which they had been relegated in 2019. But they were unable to take up their place in the Championship last year following the Russian invasion of their country only a few weeks before.
So, this weekend, they returned, again back in the Trophy due to their missing out last year. With the war still going on preparations were difficult but a team was selected and given top seeding.
And they more than justified that ranking, finishing unbeaten over the three days and looking by far the strongest team.
The wider tournament threw up some unexpected results, with several teams recording best-ever performances. This was at least partly due to the three British teams joining together to form a Great Britain team in the Championship, a change that had the greatest knock-on effect at this second tier because it meant that no teams were relegated from last year’s Championship. In addition, at least one British team has featured in the Trophy each year – last year it was England, and this year it should have been Wales.
With the Championship also expanded to 12 teams, Italy, Portugal and Sweden were all promoted from last year’s Trophy, while Israel and Moldova both avoided the drop, and Latvia received an unexpected promotion from the 2022 Conference.
This all made this year’s Trophy overall far less predictable usual.
Nonetheless Ukraine topped Pool A comfortably ahead of Turkey (who had ended 5th last year). Finland took Pool B, with the Latvians ending a surprise second, while Hungary narrowly ended top of C on points difference over Georgia, who were recording some of their best ever results. Israel – 12th in 2022 – also made the last eight, as did Austria.
The quarters saw comfortable wins for Ukraine and Turkey against Israel and Hungary. Finland saw off a strong Austrian challenge, while Georgia narrowly ended Latvia’s impressive run by just 12-5.
These results gave mean that Turkey and Georgia would play in their first ever Trophy semi-finals. Georgia battled well against the increasingly impressive Ukrainians, but were well beaten 28-10. On paper the second semi-final should have seen Finland as the experienced favourites, but Turkey had looked strong all weekend and never allowed the Finns into the game.
But in the final - a repeat of a pool game on the opening day – Ukraine again showed their superiority, winning 17-5. Elsewhere Georgia finished a best ever fourth, just edged by Finland in the bronze playoff, and Latvia defied all expectations with a remarkable 5th place.
Pool A: Denmark 17-5 Moldova; Turkey 12-22 Ukraine; Denmark 0-22 Ukraine; Turkey 28-7 Moldova; Moldova 0-43 Ukraine; Turkey 31-0 Denmark
Pool B: Finland 24-0 Israel; Norway 7-10 Latvia; Finland 19-7 Latvia; Norway 14-17 Israel; Israel 12-22 Latvia; Norway 12-14 Finland
Pool C: Hungary 24-10 Austria; Georgia 43-7 Bulgaria; Hungary 48-5 Bulgaria; Georgia 7-5 Austria; Austria 34-5 Bulgaria; Georgia 17-17 Hungary
Quarter-Final: Ukraine 26-5 Israel; Finland 14-5 Austria; Hungary 5-24 Turkey; Latvia 5-12 Georgia
9th-12th Place Semi-Finals: Denmark 39-5 Bulgaria; Norway 19-22 Moldova
5th-8th Place Semi Finals: Israel 5-17 Latvia; Austria 21-12 Hungary.
Semi-Finals: Ukraine 28-10 Georgia; Finland 5-26 Turkey
11th Place: Bulgaria 0-38 Norway
9th Place: Denmark 14-7 Moldova
7th Place: Israel 0-24 Hungary
5th Place: Latvia 19-0 Austria
3rd Place: Georgia 10-19 Finland
Final: Ukraine 17-5 Turkey