Rugby Union: Zimbabwe fill the gap

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The Independent Online
WHILE some better-known English birds may have flown the nest and headed for South Africa, an exotic mix from such faraway places as Fiji and Zimbabwe will be on hand to entertain around 45,000 when the domestic season reaches its traditional conclusion with the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham today, writes Barrie Fairall.

Recently, organisers have sought to inject new life into the old tournament, notably with an invitation to Western Samoa. Blown in on Cyclone Val two years ago and looking to raise funds for the worst natural disaster to strike the islands in a century, the Samoans proved a wonderful advertisement by lifting the Russell-Cargill Memorial Cup. So, committed to a policy of southern hemisphere involvement in the Sevens, this year Fiji Spartans, a combination of the islands' two strongest clubs, and Zimbabwe take a bow.

Zimbabwe are national representatives making an 11th-hour appearance. It had been intended to include Ithuba, an interesting combination from the black South African universities. They were to have been replacements for a team from Border, who withdrew because of Lion Cup involvement, but Derek Mann, who runs the Sevens, said: 'Their application was turned down by Louis Luyt, president of the South African Rugby Football Union.'

According to Mann, Luyt apologised but told Ithuba there was an embargo on any further tours and that they should have applied for permission last September. 'That was clearly impossible,' Mann said, 'because they had only been put on notice in February.'

Zimbabwe, recommended by Dick Best, the England coach, had no such problems and are delighted to make the trip at short notice. Meanwhile, Wasps, the holders, head a contingent of the eight top finishers in the Courage First Division.

MIDDLESEX SEVENS FINALS (Twickenham): Northampton v Rosslyn Park (11.20); Harlequins v Richmond (11.40); Orrell v Bristol (12.0); Blackheath v Fiji Spartans (12.20); Zimbabwe v Loughborough University (12.40); Bath v London Scottish (1.0); Gloucester v London Irish (1.20); Saracens v Wasps (1.40). Final: 6.30.