x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Wales turn the tables

The surprise win by Wales etches a new name on the Melrose Cup as the country finally makes a statement in the sevens game.

Aled Thomas dives over for the match-clinching try in the final against Argentina.
Aled Thomas dives over for the match-clinching try in the final against Argentina.

DUBAI // When Wales were routinely brushed aside by a buoyant Argentina team in their final pool match at the Sevens World Cup on Friday evening, few who witnessed that tepid performance would have expected Paul John's squad to come out on top when it really mattered in a final rematch 24 hours later.

For an hour or so after that 14-0 Pool F defeat there were doubts that the Welsh would even qualify for what turned into an enthralling third and last day of this increasingly popular event. Ironically, New Zealand, who Wales overcame in a thrilling quarter-final, threw their rivals a welcome lifeline by winning their group so emphatically that a strong Tonga team were denied one of the two "best runners-up" qualifying places to the benefit of the Welsh.

Wales were a different team on Saturday, following up their excellent conquest of the Kiwis by overcoming the dangerous Samoans who had earlier removed the powerful threat of England from the reckoning. That meant a showdown for the Melrose Cup with the Pumas which required a different strategy. "We played into their hands a bit in the first match," said John, "and we failed to implement our game plan. In the final we peaked and gelled at the right time and we are obviously delighted."

Lee Beach, appointed captain of the Welsh squad in the aftermath of the IRB Series tournament which was won by Argentina in San Diego last month, pinched his massive forearm as he made the handsome trophy look pitifully small. "I didn't expect to be sitting here," he admitted, pointing out that "nobody can take this away from me now". Beach, exhausted after guiding his team to a tense 19-12 triumph which was clinched by Aled Thomas's late try, added: "This is massive for me personally.

"Sevens is the next best thing to 15-a-side rugby and this has helped us to put Welsh sevens on the map." John, sitting alongside his elated captain and the Wales team manager Dai Jenkins, declared: "We have beaten some great sides to get hold of this trophy and we are very proud of our accomplishment. "We had good support from the other Celtic nations along the way. That was great and we are all so grateful for that.

"It is a massive boost when you hear people cheering and I thought the atmosphere at this new stadium was fantastic. The people here know how to run a successful tournament." Jenkins emphasised that the squad and their management team had worked tirelessly for the last three years for their night of glory which sees them follow England (1993), Fiji (1997), New Zealand (2001) and Fiji (2005) as world champions.

The victorious manager maintained: "This is an enormous statement for Welsh rugby. "We are predominantly a 15-a-side nation but I think everybody at home will be very proud of what we have done here." The series of shock results at the quarter-final stage gave a refreshing look to the fifth staging of this progressive event and brought about a truly global representation. wjohnson@thenational.ae