Russia and Ireland have added their names to the list of confirmed men's teams for Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 after successfully coming through the European qualification process.
A 17-12 victory over Wales in the final of the Exeter Sevens tournament saw Russia claim the overall Rugby Europe Sevens Grand Prix Series title, while Ireland finished runners-up and secured the second qualification spot after taking the bronze medal at Sandy Park.
Russia and Ireland knew they had done enough to make it to San Francisco once their only qualification rivals Spain had lost 21-14 to neighbours Portugal in the Cup quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, prized wins over hosts England and Spain made it a memorable tournament for Germany who booked their place alongside Ireland at the World Rugby Sevens Series 2018-19 qualifier in Hong Kong next year as one of the two best-ranked non-core teams.
Russia overcame a surprise loss to Georgia to top Pool B and set up a rematch in the Cup quarter-finals. This time there was no mistake as two tries from RWC 2011 veteran Denis Simplikevich and one from Roman Roshchin helped them to a 19-5 victory.
Determined to join their female counterparts at RWC Sevens 2018, Ireland’s men romped through the pool stages with victories over Portugal, Belgium and France to top Pool A. After conceding the first points to an Alex Davis try in the Cup quarter-finals, Ireland put 24 unanswered points on hosts England.
Spain, who started the final round of the series just two points off the qualification places, also went through their pool with an unblemished record to set up a last-eight clash with Portugal, which is where their interest ended. Plate defeats to Georgia and Germany made for a disappointing end to the series for Los Leones Sevens.
In the Cup semi-finals, Ireland’s run was halted by Wales, while a last-gasp try from winger Igor Galinovsky saw Russia complete a remarkable 19-12 comeback win against Portugal.
Russia conceded first in the final, Lloyd Lewis racing home from inside his 22 to hand Wales a dream start, but a quickfire brace from Simplikevich gave the defending series champions a 12-5 half-time lead.
Roshchin added another as Russia started the second half with a bang before Wales hit back with a good team try for Luke Morgan.
However, there was not enough time left for Wales to pull off a famous victory and Russia were left to celebrate their second tournament win, back-to-back series titles and qualification for RWC Sevens 2018.
“The first goal was to qualify for next year’s World Cup and we have done that so we are very happy,” said Russia’s Vitaly Zhivatov.
Ireland signed off on a winning note too, beating Portugal 33-12 in the third-place play-off. Hugo Keenan’s brace meant he finished level with team-mate and player of the tournament Jordan Conroy on six tries for the weekend.
Conroy ended the Grand Prix Series with a hugely impressive tally of 17 tries. “It has been a long, hard process. We had two main goals, to make Hong Kong and San Francisco and we have achieved both goals so we’re pretty happy with the progress we have made,” he said. “It’s disappointing to not come out as European champions, that would have been the icing on the cake.”