England's reluctant heroes take world title
ENGLAND, who for so long have taken an apathetic view of sevens, made the so-called powers of the southern hemisphere eat humble pie when they were crowned world champions at Murrayfield, Edinburgh yesterday. England's collection of semi-stars were worth every bit their 21-17 final victory over Australia after earlier seeing off the pride of the Pacific in New Zealand, South Africa and favourites Fiji, who they beat 21-7 in the semi-finals of the inaugural world sevens tournament. It was a inspired win for England, who were beaten by Australia in the second phase pool matches. England were beaten by Australia in the 1991 Rugby World Cup final, although none of the sevens squad were in the side.
English skipper Andrew Harriman, who thanked ''Queen and country and everybody else,'' for their victory, was the star of the tournament, his tremendous speed helping him to two tries in the semi-final against Fiji and one try in the final.
The English supporters in the 30,000 strong crowd saw Harriman carve up the Kiwis in the Pool E second phase and also make Fijian great Waisale Serevi look ordinary in defence during the semi-final. Harriman opened the scoring in the early seconds with abreathtaking run down the left wing, and played a key role in creating first half tries for Lawrence Dallaglio and Tim Rodber. Michael Lynagh scored for Australia seconds before the interval. David Campese, who missed more tackles than he scored tries - though they were many - put Australia within shouting distance with a try early in the second half. And Semi Taupeaafe's late effort hinted at a famous comeback for the Aussies.
But England's early dominance was enough to see them through. Fiji's battle-weary squad, relying so much on Serevi and Filimone Seru in reaching the final, found red-hot England too much to handle. The pressures piled on them after losing their Hongkong title told against an England side who had put in minimal preparation, bereft of pressure, and for whom Harriman was at his lightning-quick best. Twice Harriman broke the Fiji defence line, and even Serevi's trickery was not failsafe against the majestic England captain. Lynagh once again showed how invaluable is his kicking for Australia in the semi-finals for a narrow 21-19 victory over Ireland.
The match had all the features of their epic quarter-final clash in Hongkong when Australia came from behind and Eric Elwood's missed conversion cost Ireland the game.
The Murrayfield clash between the two countries featured the same referee as in Hongkong, Ray Megson. New Zealand, resting top players Eric Rush, Junior Paramore and John Timu, were simply caught cold by England in the second-phase group matches, almost in the same way that Ireland had ran through the leaden-footed Western Samoans, whose hopes were dashed in a 14-12 defeat by Fiji - avenging defeat in the Hongkong Sevens final.
The Kiwis looked like championship material in their 42-0 defeat of Australia, who were left to wonder when six unanswered tries were last scored against them in any form of rugby.
But they were made to look ordinary again by South Africa, whose narrow 7-5 defeat to Australia dashed their chances.
Despite their defeat to the Kiwis, Australia, whose preparations were limited compared to those of their Pacific rivals, won their Pool E thanks to their victory over England, who finished second.