Humble pie in abundance as England plunder silver

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 March, 1997, 12:00am

The preamble to the inaugural Rugby World Cup Sevens in 1993 was hectic.

Although the atmosphere was not as fever-pitched as in the days leading up to the Hong Kong Sevens, the Murrayfield tournament caught the imagination of the Edinburgh public and the press.

Indeed, newspapers were filled with previews, personality pieces, form guides, referring mostly to performances in Hong Kong, and pictures.

Almost every angle, it seemed, had been covered. But there was one factor which had barely been taken into account - England.

The English were sevens pariahs four years ago. They had arrogantly thumbed their noses at the Hong Kong tournament, had picked a largely unknown squad and were looked down upon by the so-called sevens powers of Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Western Samoa, who at the time were reigning Hong Kong champions.

Surely England's hotchpotch of semi-stars would be no match for the traditional giants who had honed their much-vaunted skills at the Hong Kong Stadium for almost two decades.

Australian legend, David Campese, had even questioned the need for a World Cup, saying the Hong Kong Sevens, held three weeks earlier, had already decided the world champions.

But in the final, Campese and his Australians had to eat humble pie, unable to contain England's flying captain Andrew Harriman, who earlier in the tournament helped dismantle Eric Rush's New Zealand and Waisale Serevi's Fiji.

Still, it wasn't enough to put a gag on Campese's England diatribes.

He kept the press corps entertained at the post-final news conference, lashing out at Harriman for sitting out a preliminary group match between the two sides, which Australia won.

Campo talked to the media for around 15 minutes before the arrival of then-Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer, and their quick exchange of words had those present in stitches.

Dwyer once described Campese as having a loose wire that connects his mouth with his brain, and as he walked into the room, Campo said: 'I've answered all the questions, Bob.' Dwyer sighed and replied: 'It's alright, I'll correct them.' Organisers Rugby World Cup rated the Murrayfield tournament a success, even though it came in for heavy criticism from some teams, especially the Fijians, who complained about the relative lack of hospitality services.

The convoluted format also came under fire. Dwyer himself agreed that something was wrong if New Zealand could thrash Australia by more than 40 points in a preliminary group match and then watch from the sidelines as the Aussies reach the final.

The relatively poor performances of the Southern Hemisphere teams were blamed partly on the cold and wet conditions, which kept the crowds away for the first two days of the three-day competition.

The Scottish fans, however, were in full cry during the final day. While the Hong Kong Sevens culture is to boo the Australians, the Murrayfield tradition was to boo the English. And this they did with increasing venom as the day progressed and it became clear that England could win.

Naturally, the jeers reached a crescendo at the end of the final as Harriman was dedicating England's triumph to 'Queen and country'.

Indeed, the crowd's behaviour earned them a rebuke in one of the Scottish papers the following day.

The writer talked of early internationals between the two countries when the Scotland players, the day after the match, would accompany the England team to the train station and give them a rousing farewell.

The 1993 Rugby World Cup came during a period of change for Hong Kong.

The guts of the team who had helped the territory qualify for the event had been ripped out by the departure of the Royal Regiment of Wales.

The territory managed just one win, against Namibia, which was satisfying in that the Africans had beaten Hong Kong during the qualifiers in Italy the previous year.