France completed a clean sweep of victories in this season's Rugby Europe Grand Prix Sevens Series after beating England 14-5 in the final of the last round in Exeter on Sunday. As a result, France are the eighth team to confirm their place at the men's sevens event at the Olympic Games at Rio 2016.
By reaching the semi-finals following pool victories over Romania, Germany and Portugal and an equally comfortable quarter-final win over Wales, France had already done enough to book their ticket to Rio as European champions, but they were determined to go one step further and add the Exeter crown to the titles they'd won in Moscow and Lyon last month.
Germany were duly beaten in the semi-final (24-5) before they completed their 18th win out of 18 in this Grand Prix Series with victory over England in the showpiece match at Sandy Park.
Spain’s appearance in the last four - they lost 19-0 to England in the semi-finals - ensured them of the European runners-up spot and a place in next year’s global repechage tournament.
After finishing between third and 12th in the overall series standings, Russia, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Lithuania, Georgia, Italy and Romania still have a chance of qualifying for the Olympic Games. They will go forward to compete in next weekend’s European repechage qualifying tournament in Lisbon where they will be joined by Poland, Ukraine and Latvia, as the highest ranked sides in Division 1A of the Rugby Europe Grand Prix Sevens Series, and Division 1B winners Ireland.
France have Ex-factor
In the final, played out in summer rain, France became the first side to breach England’s watertight defence in four matches. France had already been denied once when Alex Davis pulled off a brilliant cover tackle to bring down the rampaging Virimi Vakatawa with the final five minutes old, but England's tackling was found wanting a few minutes later as Manoel Dall Igna powered down the left flank and did for France what Spain, twice, and Lithuania had earlier failed to do, and cross the English line. Tournament top points scorer Terry Bouhraoua added the conversion for a 7-0 half-time lead.
Shortly after Dan Norton had saved the day with another last-ditch tackle on Julien Candelon, France scored their second try through Steeve Barry after Stephen Parez had opened up the defence with a sniping run. Bouhraoua kicked his second conversion and France were firmly in the driving seat at 14-0.Ruaridh McConnochie then capped an impressive personal display with a try to give England some hope, but France comfortably closed the game out and would have won by a bigger margn had Norton not held up Vincent Inigo over the line.
“It’s incredible to finish with a victory against such a big team like England,” said Bouhraoua.
England captain James Rodwell said: “It was a tough game out there – France are a really good team at the moment and have been on form for the whole of the European Series, so it was good for them. I was really proud of the boys this weekend – it was tough on the lungs because a lot of us haven’t played since May but I was proud of how we applied ourselves."
Spain too strong for Germany
Spain eased to a 17-0 win against Germany to finish third in the tournament and in the silver medal posiiton overall. Martin Heredia’s breakaway try and Fransisco Hernandez’s conversion was all that separated the sides at half-time. Ignacio Martin added another five points at the start of the second period after dropping on a well-weighted kick behind the German defence. The third and final try was the pick of the bunch, a swift passing movement stretching the defence and creating space for Matias Tudela to run in unopposed.
Wales overturned their 26-5 defeat to Russia in the second pool game of the opening day to win the Plate final 14-10. Harley Thomson and Lloyd Williams dotted down early to put Wales in the ascendency before Russia finished the half strongly. Sadly for them the normally prolific Denis Simplikevich was unable to take a couple of opportunities that came his way and Russia went into the break trailing by 14-0. Yury Gostyuzhev pulled a try back for Russia two minutes after the re-start and Wales had to endure a nervy finish when Vladislav Sozonov went over with 80 seconds to go.
“Quality wise we were disappointed with a number of areas but the boys turned up with intensity today and it was a nice result to finish the season with,” said Wales coach Gareth Williams.
Rapidly-improving Lithuania, who pushed England hard in the pool stages, ran away with the seventh place play-off against Georgia. Lithuania had three tries on the board inside the first four minutes through Jonas Mikalčius, Domantas Bagužis and Dovydas Taujanskas before Vytaras Bloškys added another after the break. Georgia’s frustration was compounded when Levan Gogolashvili was denied a late score after the assistant referee ruled he had run out of play before touching the ball down in the in-goal area.
Two tries apiece from Padro Leal and Ribeiro Vasco saw Portugal defeat six-man Italy 26-12 in the Bowl final. Italy’s Toniolatti Giulio was sent off just before half-time for dangerous play with Portugal leading 7-0. That lead was stretched to 19-0 and Bellini Mattea’s late brace would have been of little consolation to the Italians.
Romania beat Belgium 8-0 in a scrappy 11th place play-off between two sides searching for their first win at Sandy Park. The win was not enough to spare Romania relegation to Division 1A though.
Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series final standings 2015
1. France 60
2. Spain 50
3. England 44
4. Russia 38
5. Germany 38
6. Portugal 24
7. Wales 22
8. Belgium 20
9. Lithuania 17
10. Italy 14
11. Georgia 11
12. Romania 4
Photo credits: Douglas Langley (main photo) and Pinnacle Photography