Rugby: England squander title

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The Independent Online
Tim Rodber was infuriated by the way England surrendered their Rugby World Cup Sevens title, which was won by Fiji in impressive style in Hong Kong yesterday.

"That has to be our worst-ever sevens performance," he said after England lost 21-5 to Western Samoa in the quarter-finals "I don't mean any disrespect to Western Samoa but we should have beaten them. We just didn't take our chances and missed some crucial tackles.

"The game was there to be won, but for whatever reason we let ourselves down. It was down to individual players making mistakes. You are not going to win sevens matches if you play like we did."

England fell behind just before the end of the opening seven minutes when Brian Lima broke a couple tackles before sending in Terry Fanolua for a try. Lima scored a try soon after the restart and Afato Sooalo gave the Samoans a 21-point lead. Austin Healey's score in the corner in the dying seconds was little more than a consolation for an England side containing five of the players who triumphed at Murrayfield four years ago.

Both semi-finals were contested by teams from the southern hemisphere, Fiji beating Western Samoa and South Africa defeating New Zealand.

Fiji beat South Africa 24-21 in the final after coming back from a 14- point deficit. Fiji, who conceded their first points of the tournament in their 38-14 victory over the Samoans, gave away a similar number inside the first five minutes.

Andre Venter scored two tries, both converted by Stephen Brink, as Fiji, who had scored 299 points in the previous six games, found it difficult to break through.

Marika Vunibaka finally scored before the interval, and then three tries in five minutes in the second half won the Melrose Trophy. Brink got South Africa to within three points when he converted his own try in the last minute but it was not enough to deny Fiji the title.

Organisers of the event defended the its format, which has been branded "ridiculous" by the New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens. Several coaches were unhappy at the system used to decide the seeds, which resulted in seven of the opening day's 24 games being repeated on Saturday, including one whole group.

Leo Williams, of Rugby World Cup, said the first-day seeding system was the best available, but admitted that the decision to hold the event over three days instead of two was also based on commercial grounds.

Supporters of the system said that when England won the inaugural competition in 1993 they had to play 10 games, while this year's champions only had seven matches. Critics pointed out that England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all faced one same team on both days, while New Zealand were grouped with Tonga and Japan twice.