England show champion form to post their first-day double

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 March, 1997, 12:00am

Defending champions England endured the heat and humidity to score hard-fought victories in their opening two matches of the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

After a 33-12 win over Canada in the opening match of the tournament at the Hong Kong Stadium yesterday, the English returned to the field in the evening to out-muscle a hard-hitting Zimbabwe team 26-7. England came in for some scrutiny on the first day from opposing sides wary of writing them off too early, as happened at the inaugural tournament in 1993, when England came from nowhere to capture the Melrose Cup with a victory over Australia in the final. With injury-hit New Zealand and Australia looking vulnerable, and Fiji turning on the style only occasionally, England can look to today's second round of preliminary matches with confidence. 'As far as we are concerned, so far so good,' said England captain Tim Rodber, who was a member of the 1993 championship-winning side. 'It's hot and humid and that made it difficult for us, but it is the same for all the teams. 'Stamina is going to play a big part in this tournament, and we just hope we can go through the next two days without any injuries.

'There seem to be a few good sides out there, but in the World Cup anything can happen.' England manager Andrew Harriman, the architect of their World Cup triumph at Murrayfield four years ago, said Richard Hill, a late replacement for the unwell Lawrence Dallaglio, would continue playing in the tournament, despite leaving the action against Zimbabwe with a leg injury. 'It's just a precaution. He will be okay,' said Harriman. England also have the services of Test fly-half Mike Catt, who was doubtful before the tournament started because of a groin injury. After overcoming Canada in their first match, England, on paper, were supposed to be in for a cakewalk over the Zimbabweans, making their Hong Kong and World Cup debuts. But after Zimbabwe stunned the Canadians with a 42-7 win, the English side knew they would have to work hard.

Tries by Austin Healey (two), Nick Beal and substitute Chris Sheasby eventually snuffed out the Zimbabwean challenge, but England had to wait more than three minutes to score their first try, through Healey. England managed to score four before Zimbabwe touched down for a consolation effort by Graham Campbell with 30 seconds left to play. England led only 19-12 against Canada at half-time, through tries by Neil Back, Catt and David Scully, with Scott Stewart and John Graf touching down for the Canadians. Healey, who came on as a substitute, Rodber and Sheasby completed the scoring for England in the second half without reply. Healey emerged as England's leading points-scorer after the first day with 16.

He scored two tries and three conversions. England will face Canada again today in the second round of the tournament.

The English team were ranked sixth at the end of the first day, based on tries scored and conceded, and also take on the Cook Islands in Pool F. The Cook Islands side, made up mostly of New Zealand-based players, finished second in Pool F yesterday. They were defeated 31-12 by Spain after earlier beating fellow newcomers Morocco 31-17. They finished with a ranking of 11. Canada finished bottom of the pool yesterday to end up with a ranking of 22 from the 24 teams. England will be favourites to emerge as winners of the second round of pool matches, but they still won't know until tonight whom they may face in the quarter-finals of the Cup, should they qualify. At the end of today's play the teams will again be ranked according to their performances and, depending on their seedings, will be drawn in the quarter-finals.