Rugby Union: England begin to bridge the gulf

DICK BEST paid tribute to England's "youthful enthusiasm" last night after his side emerged with pride intact from the punishing Air France Paris Sevens.

Best's squad reached the last eight where they were beaten 40-7 by the tournament finalists New Zealand. It represented England's first major Sevens sortie since the 1997 World Cup in Hong Kong, but Best hopes that Premiership clubs and Rugby Football Union teams can now work together to guarantee a future in rugby union's scaled-down version. England ended an intense weekend of competition with a chance of silverware as they contested the bowl final for beaten quarter-finalists. But despite a promising start they fell away and Australia ran out emphatic 38-14 winners.

England acquitted themselves well, reaching the knock-out stages courtesy of group wins over Morocco and Canada on Saturday, but if they required a yardstick about how far they are behind world sevens super powers Fiji and New Zealand, then it came here at the Charlety Stadium.

Fiji beat England 38-7 in Pool C, while New Zealand's runaway quarter- final success emphasised a sizeable gulf in class.

New Zealand overcame France 36-26 in yesterday's final, having beaten Fiji in the semi-final.

Results, Digest, page 15