This past weekend was certainly nice and busy on the sporting front.
On Friday night we headed to the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford to watch the European Aquatic Championships. Held every two years, the championships consist of swimming, diving and synchronised swimming and we had tickets for an evening’s swimming session that included a number of finals and semi-finals.
The Aquatics Centre was built for the 2012 Olympics and its wave-like shape is certainly an eye-catching design. It’s also obviously state-of-the-art inside and what’s great is that it’s available for use by the general public – it cost £5 to use the facilities. While I have been swimming here before, this was my first event and the atmosphere inside was fantastic. The 2,500 capacity crowd included fans from across Europe with especially strong support it seemed from the Nordic countries. Italy had a brilliant evening winning a number of events while the Swedish and Danish ladies also performed really well.
On Sunday we headed to Twickenham in West London to watch the London Sevens, the 10th and final leg of the IRB Sevens World Series. I love watching rugby at this stadium, even when it’s nowhere near full, and this was our third London Sevens tournament. The competition is played over the weekend with group games on the Saturday and the knock-out games on the Sunday.
For those who don’t follow how it works, four trophies are awarded in each tournament – the Cup, whose winner is the overall tournament champion, Plate, Bowl and Shield. The top two teams in each of the four pools advance to the Cup competition and the bottom two to the Bowl competition. The four cup quarterfinal losers then drop into the bracket for the Plate while the losing four bowl quarterfinalists drop into the Shield competition. This format ensures all teams play at least five games across the weekend and keeps it interesting and exciting for everyone.
Sevens is incredibly fast-paced and the seven minute halves always fly by. While core rugby skills obviously remain important, there are far more upsets in 7s than in the 15-man game because there are fewer skill set-pieces (line-outs, scrums etc.) and far more space. Although your more traditional rugby powerhouses often win the main cup competition, it’s unpredictability makes it an exciting sport to watch and all tournaments invariably will see a number of upsets. (This season has also seen Kenya and Scotland win their maiden tournaments).
The BlitzBokke, South Africa’s team, played really well in both their quarter and semi finals beating Argentina and Fiji, arguably the best sevens side in the world. On the other side of the draw, powerhouse New Zealand were upset by the USA in the quarter-final before being upset themselves to Scotland. This was Scotland’s first cup final and we were very confident the BlitzBokke would win their second tournament of the year.
Things were going nicely to plan as we led throughout the game and with around a minute to play looked to have wrapped things up leading 26-15. The Scots had other ideas, however, scoring two tries to win it after the buzzer had sounded. We couldn’t quite believe it but all credit to the Scots who kept believing. Overall, the BlitzBokke finished second with Fiji winning their second successive series title. The full results can be found here.
Normally this would be the end of the sevens season but for the first time ever sevens is an Olympic Sport so the teams will meet again in Rio. Fiji have never won a medal at an Olympics and will be backing themselves to make history while we’re obviously supporting the BlitzBokke. Bring on Rio!