Rugby Union: England find sevens heaven: Rugby World Cup Sevens: Harriman and company leave Wallabies in wake

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SO THE country that cared least about the cup ended up winning it. England's young and virtually unknown side defeated Australia here yesterday to become world champions in the weird and wonderful discipline of sevens rugby. English officialdom will not be so sniffy about the game now.

Sheasby, Dallaglio, Scully: these players were hardly in the Will Carling fame league before this gruelling tournament began, but they ought to be there this morning for eliminating Fiji in the semi-final and then subduing a ferocious Australian fightback in the second half of the deciding match. Such was the resolution required to hold off assault after Australian assault that, in its way, this victory will rank with the great achievements of English rugby.

The first World Cup Sevens has been maligned for being unnecessary, over-long and under- sold, but those who stayed loyal to the competition through three full days were rewarded with three tumultuous concluding games. First England ended the swerving, sprinting progress of Fiji, then Ireland came within a whisker of making it an all-European climax, losing the other semi-final to Australia only on the last kick of the match.

England's inspiration throughout their 10 games here has been Andrew Harriman, the fastest runner in the competition and by far its outstanding player. On yesterday's evidence it will be remembered as one of the great rugby paradoxes that Harriman has just one England cap from the 15-a-side game. He gained it, ironically, against Australia in 1988 and, with the probability that he will retire after Harlequins meet Leicester in the Pilkington Cup final, he is unlikely to extend that meagre collection of headwear.

Harriman admitted after this game that talk of England fielding a second or third choice side for this World Cup had encouraged his team-mates to reach new heights. Poor Scotland - beaten by Japan in one of the consolation games - had spent fortunes in time and money preparing their squad, but the English authorities had made no secret of their indifference to the event and had even shunned the idea of a preparatory trip to the Hong Kong Sevens.

If they are not embarassed this morning, they ought to be. England won the Melrose Cup in spite of, rather than because of, the support they received from their home union. Against Australia they were magnificent, with Tim Rodber, Lawrence Dellaglio and David Scully tackling with career-shortening abandon.

Midway through the second- half, Sheasby seemed to lose the capacity to breathe such was his fatigue and soon after that, Rodber's legs could stand no more and he was replaced by Justyn Cassell. England and Australia each played 56 minutes of high-speed sevens rugby yesterday just to reach the final and it was a wonder they were able to walk on to the pitch at all.

Without such a spirit of defiance, England may have succumbed to an Australian team 21-0 down after five minutes but full of running and power after the break (what there was of it). Harriman, Dallaglio and Rodber had flattened Australia with early tries, all converted by Beal, but then Lynagh, Campese and Ofahengaue emerged from their trance to drive the Wallabies back to 21-10. Then a try by Taupeaafe, a conversion by Lynagh, and a painful wait by England for the end to come.

When it did, all the predictions that the southern hemsiphere would dominate these championships were quietly forgotten. England, as Harriman said, 'were a scratch side who hadn't played together before, an unknown quantity even to ourselves'.

England: Tries Harriman, Dellaglio, Rodber; Conversions Beal 3. Australia: Tries Lynagh, Campese, Taupeaafe; Conversion Lynagh.

ENGLAND: A Harriman (Harlequins, capt), A Adebayo (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), D Scully (Wakefield); T Rodber (Northampton), L Dellaglio (Wasps), C Sheasby (Harlequins), Replacement: J Cassell (Saracens) for Rodber, 17.

AUSTRALIA: D Campese (Randwick), J Fenwicke (Sydney Univ), M Lynagh (Queensland Univ, capt) R Constable (Noosa); V Ofahengaue (Manly), M Burke (Eastwood), S Taupeaafe (Manly).

Referee: P Robin (France).

(Photograph omitted)