Entering the knockout stages at Scotstoun Stadium today, it is the usual suspects, Australia, England, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa et al, who will harbour the greatest hopes of winning the Cup in Round 8 of the HSBC Sevens World Series.
The host nation's players, coached by former international centre Graham Shiel, will need to content themselves with vying for the Bowl – or, if they fail to overcome Kenya this morning, the Shield – after losing narrowly to South Africa and Wales and defeating Russia in their Pool D outings yesterday.
Yet, simply to be staging an event of this size and stature for the first time was a triumph of sorts for rugby union in the city of Glasgow. It was a gilt-edged opportunity to promote the sport to a football-obsessed population and it was grasped firmly with both hands.
There was a smattering of empty seats at a venue which had its capacity increased to 15,000 with the construction of three temporary stands. Nevertheless, a crowd of 13,345 for the opening day, though, was highly respectable. The turnout was a considerable improvement for a tournament that has been played at a not even quarter full Murrayfield for the last five years. Shiel, for one, was impressed.
"It has been a hugely positive move," he said. "There has been a real buzz about the place all day. I am sure the event will go from strength to strength here."
Glasgow Warriors, who will play at Scotstoun next season after taking part in their final game at Firhill against Connacht last night, would be doing well to generate such a carnival atmosphere and attract as colourful a following at their RaboDirect Pro 12 and Heineken Cup games in the future. Captain America, Pac Man, Beetlejuice, Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble, were just a handful of the weird and wonderful characters who made an appearance at the sort of competition where the supporters make their own entertainment regardless of whether the team they are pulling for on the field delivers.
The 16 countries represented, including those from as far-flung locations as Kenya, Samoa, the United States, all had their backers too. In particular, the fans of the former, there in their hundreds, enhanced the occasion enormously. "We want another one," they bellowed as one as their heroes ran in try after try to give Australia a serious scare before being cruelly pipped 28-26 at the death.
Outside the stadium, there was plenty to entertain, too, with the kids' skills zone drawing a large number of interested participants. A fair few impressionable youths will, no doubt, have been alerted to the delights of the oval ball game by a wonderful spectacle that, at times, borders on the bizarre. Alas, Scotland opened their account in trademark fashion by producing a gallant performance against Wales, opponents they had defeated only four times in 18 previous meetings at this level, before losing narrowly 17-14 late on.
Sounds horribly familiar, eh? A brace of James Fleming tries – both of which were converted, with a little assistance from the woodwork on each occasion, by captain Colin Gregor – gave them a 14-12 lead entering the closing stages of the game. A late Rhys Shellard try dashed their hopes.
The game against South Africa followed the same script. A Frankie Horne try, converted by Branco du Preez, and a Steven Hunt try gave their rivals an early 12-0 advantage. Two Gregor tries under the posts either side of half-time, however, put the home favourites 14-12 ahead and produced the loudest cheers of the afternoon. With the seconds running down, the ground was silenced when Horne went over to put the Springboks in front once more. Du Preez added the extra points to put the finishing touch to a 19-14 win that booked his team's place in the Cup quarter-final and consigned Scotland to the Bowl. A convincing 33-5 win over Russia, achieved courtesy of two Ross Miller tries and scores apiece from Michael Fedo, Jim Houston and Andrew Turnbull, lifted the home support at the end of a frustrating day that at times promised much but delivered little.
"I am happy with three good performances," reflected Shiel. "But it was a tough day. We played well and perhaps didn't get the results we merited. The margin between being successful and not being successful is so fine. We were unfortunate to just fall short against Wales and South Africa. Having said that, it is our own responsibility to finish things off, to close things out. We are a nation that needs a lot of possession to score. But we are working hard on our attack to try to break teams down more quickly. We will see what tomorrow brings."
New Zealand currently lead the HSBC Sevens World Series rankings and there were strong indications in their Pool B games yesterday they can strengthen their position with an overall success here. After brushing aside Spain 31-5 in their opening tie, the All Blacks romped to a 62-0 annihilation of France – the country that caused their full team such difficulties in the Rugby World Cup final last year – and then edged out Samoa 22-21.
Sevens specialists Fiji, lurking just behind New Zealand in the series standings, also went undefeated, albeit against decidedly weaker opposition in Zimbabwe, Portugal and Argentina, after a string a highly polished excursions. They will also be hopeful when the serious business kicks off today.