Rugby Union: Wasps' Sevens sting: Barrie Fairall reports from the Middlesex Sevens

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The Independent Online
THE Middlesex Sevens was long due for the knackers yard according to some, and at the end of almost eight hours of non- stop rugby everyone was pretty knackered. But then never-say- die Wasps lifted the old tournament to new heights just when the faithful were beginning to indicate they had seen enough.

The organisers had started the rethink last year by sending out invitations to the southern hemisphere and ensuring the participation of seven First Division clubs. Wasps' fight-back against Northampton in Saturday's final, though, was the best possible advertisement for the health of the abbreviated game.

At the World Cup Sevens , the long-winded format was not a success, and even at Twickenham an eight-hour day was stretching it. Extra time, injuries and a plate competition all contrived to destroy interest but Wasps turned the heads of those heading for home by setting about a 19-point deficit three minutes into the second half. 'Suddenly we decided they were taking the mickey here,' Phil Hopley said. He was the first to set about turning the tide with a try and his final conversion earned Wasps their 26-24 win.

Hopley's spirit typified Wasps. No one expected them to lay hands on the Russell-Cargill Memorial Cup, even after Paul Volley had broken away for a try in extra time in their semi-final against the Samoans. But while the Samoans - warmly welcomed on their return as champions - dropped in the popularity ratings following a brutal confrontation with London Irish, Wasps went from strength to strength having accounted for Wellington, the other guests, from New Zealand, in their quarter-final.

The tournament may still receive another revamp, said Derek Mann, the tournament organiser. 'We are really committed though, at this stage, to having a southern hemisphere side here every year.' Which should suit Wasps and spectators just fine.

Final scorers: Wasps: Tries Hopley (2), Friday, White. Conversions Hopley (3). Northampton: Tries Steffart, Knowles, Ord. Conversions Steele (3). Penalty Steele.

Northampton: H Thorneycroft, F Packman, J Steele (capt), N Knowles; M Steffart, P Pask, M Ord.

Wasps: L Scrase, P Hopley, A Thompson (capt), M Friday; L Dallaglio, P Volley, M White.

Referee: N Cousins (Herne Hill).

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