Cherry Poppers pick of the bunch at Rugby Sevens

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Cherry Poppers of Aberdeen won the St Andrews Rugby Sevens powered by Rampant Sporting, winning a thrilling Cup final in extra time against Minerva Builders.

Having seen off semi-final opponents Loose Cannons with a sudden-death try, the Poppers repeated the trick to stun their Glaswegian adversaries after the scores were level at 24-24 at the end of normal time.

The Plate competition was won by Ballhogs, who were comprehensive 38-5 winners over Fighting Fish, a team made up of current St Andrews Rugby Club players.

With last year’s Cup winners Shark Kings absent, the field was open for someone to claim their title and it was Cherry Poppers who coped best on a day of very mixed weather conditions.

The day began with sparse crowds and heavy rain, but the pool stages of the competition were still able to go ahead. That had much to do with the tournament organisers, who did well to deal with two teams not turning up and one unfortunate player suffering a broken hand in the first round of matches.

There were strong starts for Gladiators, who scored 52 without reply against Uzbeks, and the Yellow-Bellied Lizards, who thrashed Cupids 2 49-0.

2011’s Cup runners-up, GLBM, did not look like having the same success this time round and – despite a 19-14 win over eventual Plate winners Ballhogs – they were not able to qualify for the final 16 of the Cup competition.

The same went for the other teams made up of current St Andrews students, as Fighting Cocks, Big Fish and Fighting Fish – a blend of the former two – had to make do with continuing into the Plate competition in the afternoon, as did Kite Chasers and the freshers team Kite Runners, whose performances sadly did not match up to their impressive (eye-wateringly bright) kit.

Of the teams of St Andrews old boys, it was Rat Pack – Prince William’s former team – who looked in best shape, completing a decade of competing at this tournament by topping Pool D by seeing off Yellow-Bellied Lizards 19-17.

Over in Pool C, Minerva Builders were looking the team to beat. A 26-7 win over Cherry Poppers – for which the Aberdonians would gain sweet revenge later of course – was followed up with a 64-0 victory over Kite Chasers, who were simply blown away by their opponents’ physicality and attacking flair.

The afternoon’s play was witnessed by a growing crowd of spectators, with the weather improving and the tournament reaching the pivotal knock-out stages. Rat Pack’s challenge was ended by Cherry Poppers, while Minerva Builders, Gladiators and Loose Cannons looked impressive as they also progressed to the semi-finals.

In the second-tier Plate competition, Fighting Cocks came out on top of their all-St Andrews clash with Uzbeks, outscoring their opponents by six tries to two. GLBM, meanwhile, were making up for their disappointing morning by winning their way through to the semis at the expense of Slipperies and Edinburgh Medics.

The Cup semi-finals were both closely-fought encounters. Minerva Builders came back from 17-5 down to beat Gladiators 24-17, gaining momentum at the crucial time to outlast their rivals. In the other last-four match, Loose Cannons took a 14-7 lead against Cherry Poppers despite having a man in the sin bin and looked to hang on. But a last-minute break down the left wing allowed the Poppers to level the match, and it was they who struck in extra time to progress to the final.

Before that final, the Plate final was contested between Fighting Fish and Ballhogs. Ballhogs scored almost instantly and soon seemed out of sight with two more tries. Fighting Fish eventually sorted out their defence and scored a try of their own, a well-worked move finished off in the left-hand corner just before half time.

They continued to play positive attacking rugby, but Ballhogs reasserted their control of the game with three breakaway tries to give them a deserved 38-5 victory and some silverware.

That left one match to play – the Cup final between Minerva Builders and Cherry Poppers. The team from Glasgow were favourites, not least from their comfortable victory over the same opponents in the pool stages.

Yet it was Cherry Poppers who took the lead, a lovely kick and chase giving them the opening try. Minerva then upped the pressure and hammered out a 17-5 lead. The Aberdeen side attempted to close the gap before half time, but frequent knock-ons were costing them at the crucial moments.

They did, however, make the brighter start to the second period, breaching the previously-formidable Minerva rearguard to bring the teams level at 17-17.

The next try would be crucial. After a scrappy period of play, it was Poppers who got it via a superb offload and they thought the game was theirs. But a great solo run from deep let Minerva back in and the match was destined for extra time.

Both sides had their chances to score the winner, but a big hit, turnover and break beyond a tired and committed Minerva defence sparked celebrations on the sidelines and sealed a sensational Cup triumph.

It is fair to say that the Cherry Poppers players had most to celebrate at the subsequent 7th Heaven after-party at Kinkell, victorious on a day of wonderfully dramatic rugby and champagne both on and off the pitch.

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