RUGBY UNION: Ithuba's lions fall to Tigers

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The Independent Online


Leicester won the prize, but Ithuba captured the hearts of a record crowd for the Middlesex Sevens with an extraordinary performance at Twickenham on Saturday. Never mind the fact that this was a first adventure abroad for an all-black side from the Western Cape, these South Africans had never sampled the abbreviated game until they set foot on British soil.

So there was a surprise in store for all as the curtain lowered on another season, not least for such magnificent ambassadors from the townships who revealed themselves as some of the quickest learners the game has seen. The L plates were things of the past once they had left Harlequins and Rosslyn Park in their wake on the way to the final.

The Tigers, who added the Russell-Cargill Cup to the First Division silverware with a 38-19 victory, will not be too concerned that they played a supporting role while the visitors stole the show. As it was, John Liley's well-organised and muscular seven thoroughly enjoyed contributing to a spectacular Saturday afternoon.

Ithuba would have been here last year but for the intervention of Louis Luyt, the president of the South African Rugby Football Union, who put a block on the proposed trip by arguing that permission to tour had been sought too late. Ithuba, which roughly translated from Xhosa means "chance" certainly took their opportunity now.

Quins were first to experience it, the 13-times winners dipatched 28- 7 in the quarter-finals. Rosslyn Park, beaten 24-14 in a thrilling match, then provided the stepping stone to the final and there was a hint of a further upset with "Percy" Booysen's breakaway try in the third minute.

Leicester, though, had the bulk and power up front to wear the tourists down and it was Liley who sent them on their way to victory with an immediate response. Four more tries followed to two from the flyaway Julian Visser.

As Irven October, the Ithuba captain, said: "I believe the guys came out of this with honour and for me it was a great pleasure to lead them. We have learned such a lot."

Leicester: Tries Liley, Hamilton, Johnson, Reynolds, Richardson, Malone; Conversions Liley 4. Ithuba: Tries Booysen, Visser 2; Conversions October 2.

Leicester: T Reynolds, J Liley (capt), N Malone, J Hamilton; C Tarbuck, C Johnson, N Richardson.

Ithuba: W Louw, J Visser, I October (capt), L Booysen; S Langenhoven, K January, N Witbooli.

Referee: N Cousins (Dulwich).