Quality teaching from Wigan at Sevens seminar

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The Independent Online
Rugby Union

Some of us will never again look at rugby union skills in the same light after what we have seen over the past week from Wigan, culminating in their remarkable achievement of reaching into the very heart of union at Twickenham and winning the Middlesex Sevens.

So what, precisely, is going on? Have Wigan made a statement about the attractions of rugby league or the attractions - to what might now be termed rugby union "scouts" - of rugby league players? Either way, they graced Twickenham and lent quality to an event that would otherwise have had precious little.

Even if we accept that, usefully for Wigan, the abbreviated form of the game more closely resembles their own code, the superb athleticism, strength and speed of every one of the rugby league champions' players in each of their games provided hundreds of small object lessons that together formed a definitive rugby seminar.

If they had trouble when the ball was on the ground, so what? If this is one area in which Bath will give them inordinate trouble when they play their return match under union rules at Twickenham on 25 May, so what? Their appearance at HQ - completely rebuilt since Martin Offiah was last here as a finalist with Rosslyn Park in 1987 - was an outright celebration. For union, it is a time for humility.

Maurice Lindsay, the Rugby League's chief executive, said afterwards that Wigan, who will certainly be invited, will be back next year to defend the Russell Cargill Cup. And unless the other entrants take it as seriously as this year's runners-up, Wasps, who were led by the only England player on view, Lawrence Dallaglio, it will be another shoe-in.

When Wigan took up the invitation, it was on the Rugby League's condition that, after 101 years of union/league enmity, they field their best squad and never mind inconveniences such as Saturday's injuries to Henry Paul and Scott Quinnell. Since no one else among the likely contenders other than Wasps did likewise, the final result was scarcely surprising.

"To be honest, Wigan would probably have been embarrassed if they'd lost," Dallaglio suggested. His Wasps had creditably caused them some difficulty, as Harlequins had in an earlier round by leading 12-0 before being buried like everyone else. Richmond had no chance, nor did Leicester, the defending champions.

In fact Wasps started the final with the first three tries, Buster White, Andy Gomarsall and Peter Scrivener following each other to the line in a typical period when Wigan were incapable of laying their hands on the ball. But they made a virtue of this problem by ensuring that every time - this is no exaggeration - possession was secured they exploited it by scoring.

Offiah's happy return brought two tries against Wasps, six in all, and Va'aiga Tuigamala, Gary Connolly, Jason Robinson and Shaun Edwards added the others to leave it at 38-15. "I was very proud of the way the lads represented themselves, rugby league and sport in general," Joe Lydon, the Wigan assistant coach, said. As a missionary expedition, or a foray into the shop-window if you prefer, this was faultless.

Wigan: Tries Offiah 2, Tuigamala, Connolly, Robinson, Edwards; Conversions Farrell 3, Connolly. Wasps: Tries White, Gomarsall, Scrivener.

Wigan: M Offiah (R Smyth, 15), J Robinson, G Connolly, S Edwards (capt); S Quinnell (K Radlinski, 5), A Farrell, V Tuigamala.

Wasps: S Roiser, N Greenstock, A Thompson, A Gomarsall; L Dallaglio (capt), M White, P Scrivener.

Referee: D Sainsbury (Billingshurst, Sussex).

SAVE & PROSPER MIDDLESEX CHARITY SEVENS (Twickenham): Cup First round: Stirling County 29 Hayward's Heath 10, Wasps 33 Bristol 12, Orrell 45 Malaysia 7, Blackheath 14 Wakefield 5, Wigan 48 Richmond 5, Harlequins 36 Gloucester 5, Sale 22 Saracens 21, Leicester 26 London Scottish 22. Second round: Wasps 24 Stirling County 12, Orrell 33 Blackheath 17, Wigan 36 Harlequins 24, Leicester 31 Sale 5. Semi-finals: Wasps 21 Orrell 12, Wigan 35 Leicester 12. Final: Wigan 38 Wasps 15.

Plate First round: Bristol 46 Hayward's Heath 17, Wakefield 45 Malaysia 5, Richmond 40 Gloucester 7, Saracens 26 London Scottish 14. Semi-finals: Wakefield 22 Bristol 12, Richmond 26 Saracens 12. Final: Wakefield 31 Richmond 19.