Commonwealth Games 2014: Scottish fightback gives All Blacks an almighty fright

Unbeaten favourites forced to hang on at the end before overcoming the host nation 17-14 in rugby sevens
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The Independent Online

It was a shame Les Charles was not among the 50,000 crowd at the home of Rangers Football Club yesterday. For one thing, he might have seen his son, Anthony Bayne-Charles, playing for Barbados in the rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Games. For another, he might have commandeered the pitchside microphone and belted out his No 1 hit from 1986: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Instead, Billy Ocean, as Les Charles has become better known, was getting ready for a gig at the G Casino in Reading when the going got tough not just for his son's side in the opening session of the two-day competition (they lost 68-5 to Canada) but – shock, horror – for those fearsome men in black. The wave of home inspiration that has swept Team Scotland to success in the pool, on the judo mat and at the velodrome seemed unlikely to extend to their short-form rugby players. Not in their opening pool match, at any rate. In 109 years of striving in the 15-man union game, Scotland have never managed to beat the All Blacks. They have drawn twice against the New Zealanders at Murrayfield: a 0-0 chiller in 1964 and a 25-25 thriller in 1983.

Oh, and they avoided defeat against the All Black Invincibles of 1925 by deciding not to play them. This tactic seemed the best bet for the Caledonian sevens class of 2014 yesterday, not least after New Zealand had opened the day by keeping Canada off the scoreboard and racking up 39 points of their own.

In doing so, the sevens specialists moulded by Gordon Tietjens, knighted for his efforts as their coach of two decades, not only passed the 1,000-point mark in Commonwealth competition, they extended their record in the Games to 26 wins from 26 matches.

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Winners in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, Manchester in 2002, Melbourne in 2006 and again in Delhi four years ago, the All Black seven-a-side merchants have got their sights locked on gold in Rio when the truncated form of the game makes its Olympic debut the year after next.

Their star turn in the win against Canada had been Ben Lam, the nephew of Pat Lam, the former New Zealand and Samoa flanker and Scotland assistant coach. The Aucklander broke 11 seconds for the 100m when he was still at school and sprinted home a brace of classy tries.

Against Scotland, he jinked inside Lee Jones and shot past Stuart Hogg for the opening try in the second minute. Lam to the slaughter, anyone? It took some stout Scottish defensive work to limit the damage to 17-0 at the break, Sherwin Stowers claiming the second and third New Zealand try. But then a funny thing happened – well, three actually.

The All Blacks ran out of steam, ran short of players, and Scotland mounted the sister of all comebacks, if not quite the mother. Mark Bennett teed up Jones for a score on the left and Scott Wight converted, reducing the deficit to 17-7. Then New Zealand had one man yellow-carded, Gillies Kaka, closely followed by another, Tim Mikkelson.

With a five-seven advantage in personnel, Scotland scented a famous victory. Jones broke through the thin black defensive line and Wight again converted. Tietjens gave an anxious glance to his right to check out the time remaining on the clock, which read 58 seconds, and the score, which was now: 17-14.

Canada and Barbados tussle for the ball

There followed the unfamiliar sight of a New Zealand side running down the clock, kicking for touch to waste time with a line-out, and even hurrying Mikkelson back on for the last couple of seconds when he should have still been in the bin. Scotland could have lodged an appeal against the infringement but, having conceded a free-kick at that stage, decided not to. The Commonwealth Invincibles had got off the hook by the seat of their All Black pants.

"Well, wouldn't you be nervous when you're down to five men?" Sir Gordon replied, when asked about his glance at the clock. "It was really tough after Scotland got their first try."

Jones lamented: "We gave ourselves a chance but they cynically managed to break down a couple of attacks that could have led to tries."

It was breathless stuff during the opening session. The predominantly Caledonian crowd booed the England players as they opened with a 57-0 demolition of Sri Lanka, and cheered when one fan had a proposal of marriage accepted on the pitch.

And then they had Anthony Bayne-Charles. "I studied music at uni but rugby is my passion," said the Londoner, whose mother is Barbadian. "I was loving playing in front of so people out there today."