Rugby Union: Sevens shot full of holes but punch line was magnificent: Abbreviated game over-extended on world stage

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WAS it worth it? Yes, for England - and the physiotherapists, who did a roaring trade - but if the World Cup Sevens is to find a permanent place in the sport's crowded schedule then the organisers may have to go back to business school. There was acrimony in the air here yesterday. Lots of it.

No sooner had England lifted the cup amid roars of Scottish anguish than the flinging of blame began with everything from the queues at hamburger stands to the absence of promotional posters along Princes Street cited as evidence of organisational incompetence. Thank goodness those dramatic concluding matches were enough to make the three days of conveyor belt action worthwhile.

If we leave all the arguments about hot dogs and advertisements to others, the chief areas of concern were the excessive demands on players and the complexities of the qualifying system that finally coughed up an England- Australia final. As Bob Dwyer, Australia's coach, said mockingly: 'Working out how to get through was a stimulating mental exercise.' Indeed, the Wallabies were fortunate to have found a formula given that they lost 42-0 to New Zealand in the second round-robin stage.

If it was a conundrum for team managers, it was a bore for spectators. Fewer games, an earlier knock-out stage, the shortening of the tournament from three days to two and the acquisition of a countdown clock would have made this tournament tighter, tenser.

For the players themselves, you can feel only admiration at their fortitude and sympathy that they should have been asked to do so much. 'I certainly wouldn't want to play in world sevens for three days,' Noel Murphy, the Irish manager, said. 'It's too much. The medical people have worked wonders getting some of these players back on the field.'

Michael Lynagh, the Australian captain, was only half joking when he said he would 'rather be running in the London Marathon' than have to play 76 minutes of bruising and frenetic rugby on the final day. There is a serious point here: it is not for people in committee rooms to risk the careers of players by drawing up such draining schedules. The injury list from Murrayfield will resemble a telephone directory, and on Sunday there was a sense of shame to be felt from the succession of hobbling players leaving the field.

Still, for the English management it was a bizarre endorsement of their casual approach that they should have beaten Australia in a final that matched any 15-a-side game for excitement. As David Campese, the Australian wing, said of England's Andrew Harriman, 'he can run from anywhere and he can beat anyone', a comment that only deepened the anomaly of Harriman's failure to establish himself in the 15-man side.

'The cup final (Harlequins against Leicester at Twickenham) may be my swan-song, but if Geoff Cooke came in here now and offered me a cap I would play for another 30 years,' Harriman said. Sadly, Cooke did not appear.

Nor, for the most part, did the spectators. Murrayfield was perhaps three- quarters full on Sunday, and ITV can hardly have been said to have excelled themselves by showing highlights of earlier games just as Ireland were taking on Australia in the second of the semi-finals. One thing they did pick up, though, was the unceasing hostility to England shown by Scots in the Murrayfield crowd. Fiji, Australia, even South Africa: they were all cheered as if they were Scotland themselves and, as one newspaper noted here, English support for Rangers in the European Cup is definitely not reciprocated when Scots watch English sides in action.

That, of course, is their prerogative, and besides, the antipathy of the audience seems to be no barrier to English success at Murrayfield these days. Had Scotland not undertaken such an intensive and expensive (pounds 200,000 is the most popular estimate) preparation for this competition - only to perform abysmally - then doubtless the Murrayfield crowd would not have been so sour.

England arrived by coach for their World Cup. Many of their players barely knew each other. But, in 20 minutes at the end of this sprawling tournament, they somehow made it work.