England salute triple Sevens Cup glory
'I just love it. Three times in Hong Kong and not beaten as yet. I can't remember the game at all'
England gave the three-finger salute to Argentina last night. It was not hard to decipher what the digits signified for they had just become the first northern hemisphere team to win a Cup hat-trick at the Hong Kong Sevens.
'I just love it. Three times in Hong Kong and not beaten as yet. Honestly, I can't remember the game at all. All I know is that we are the champions,' laughed exhausted England captain Simon Amor after his side's 22-12 victory over the South Americans.
It was not a classic sevens final - apart from one brilliant passage of play from Saracens flyer Richard Haughton who scored a trademark try, a 70-metre sprint that left Argentina's defence for dead midway through the second half.
For most of the 20 minutes, however, it was a battle of attrition upfront with England forwards Geoff Appleford, Pat Sanderson and Phil Dowson doing yeoman service at the breakdown and ruling the trenches.
'We won the rucks. We were better in the contact situation. Our forwards had a huge game and we had the wheels out wide in Richard [Haughton] and Ben [Gollings],' said Amor.
Easily the fastest man at the 2004 tournament, Haughton's speed had earlier burned the hopes of opponents South Africa (semi-finals) and Fiji (quarterfinals). He scored in all three Cup games yesterday, a brace against South Africa and one against Fiji to take his total of tries to eight - the highest try-scorer in the tournament.
No surprise, then that he was picked as Best and Fairest Player. It was an easy choice for the panel. For every time Haughton had the ball in his hand these past three days, he has looked as dangerous as a scud missile.
'It was a team performance. They gave me the ball and I tried to make the best use of it. When I broke away, I knew I had a good chance to score although I had some distance to cover. Three-in-a-row and I'm pleased to say that I have been part of all these teams although I didn't play the first year,' said Haughton.
During his first year, in 2002, he was a squad member sitting on the sidelines. England won. Last year, he came off the bench in the second half of the final against New Zealand and scored two tries. England won. This time, he played the whole game. England won.
'It is a nice habit to have, winning in Hong Kong. This is the biggest sevens tournament in the world and it is always special to win here. We have never lost here and I didn't want that to change. It is 18 games and counting,' said happy England coach Joe Lydon.
'We were a bit lucky with the bounce of the ball. We had a lot of respect for Argentina. We knew they were in the final on merit and that their win over New Zealand was no fluke,' said Lydon who coached England to the hat-trick.
He said the defining moment on the final day for England had come in the semi-final against South Africa when Peter Richards capitalised on a poor lineout throw from Kabamba Floors to score the try that put England out of reach at 15-7 with less than a minute to go.
'We took our chances well when it came our way. That try was crucial to us,' said Lydon. England had earlier beaten Fiji 17-12 in the quarterfinals, coming back from a 5-7 deficit at half-time.
Argentina, appearing for the first time in the final at the Hong Kong Sevens, fired the first salvo when skipper Francisco Leonelli rolled over for a try despite the close attention of Pat Sanderson, and give his side the perfect start.
But England hit back when skipper Amor was on hand to complete a Peter Richards break and dot down wide. Ben Gollings, who had a bad day with his drop-kicking, missed the conversion. But just on half-time, Gollings was given an easier kick after Richards touched down close to the post after a sniping run from the side of a ruck.
England increased their lead to 17-5 soon after half-time with Haughton's try. Substitute Matias Albina breathed some life into his side when he capitalised on a Gollings' mistake to score under the post for a converted try and reduce the deficit to 17-12. But Rob Thirlby, coming on as a substitute, sealed the victory when he decided to do a solo off a tap penalty and score the try that set off scenes of jubilation among the packed stands.
'I saw a hole in the defence and I just went for it. I was fresh and I just decided to have a go,' said Thirlby. The try sunk Argentina.
The plucky South Americans had earlier seen off the challenge from New Zealand and Canada in the semi-finals and quarterfinals, respectively.
'We didn't take our opportunities. We lost it in the contact situation,' said unhappy Kiwi coach Gordon Tietjens. 'Before the game, both us and Argentina had the best defensive record and it was a close match.'
England made a mockery of Argentina's miserly defence. The four tries from Richards, Amor, Haughton and Thirlby are evidence of that.