Friday looks forward to Sunday best

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Joe Lydon's legacy was plain to see at Twickenham as England's new stars of the abbreviated game kept the old masters, New Zealand, on their toes going into the final stages of the IRB Series eighth and concluding tournament, which ends this evening.

Joe Lydon's legacy was plain to see at Twickenham as England's new stars of the abbreviated game kept the old masters, New Zealand, on their toes going into the final stages of the IRB Series eighth and concluding tournament, which ends this evening.

The All Blacks' seven have won each of the four events to date, and are odds-on to make it five. That they have been pushed all the way by England emphasises the transformation wrought by Lydon, whose three years in charge of the sevens squad ended a fortnight ago when he became backs coach to Sir Clive Woodward's senior team.

England kicked off here by beating Scotland and Italy as the prelude to a curious situation in which it might have suited them to lose to France in their third and final pool match. With New Zealand leading the IRB Series by 10 points, England's best hope of being overall champions rested on them winning today's final, and collecting 20 points, while their rivals progressed no further than the quarter-finals. If England qualified from their pool in second place, they would have had a first-hand chance to do the necessary, by knocking New Zealand out in the last eight.

Lydon's successor as head coach, Mike Friday, was quick to dismiss the possible conspiracy theory, saying: "We are here to try and retain the London title and whatever will be, will be. Our attitude will be to win every game in front of our home crowd."

Patently, no other approach would fit with Woodward's determination, made flesh in the recruitment of Lydon from rugby league in 2001, to use sevens as a development pathway to senior honours.

In March, England took the blue riband event in Hong Kong for the third year running, having won in South Africa in December and been runners-up overall last season. Josh Lewsey and James Simpson-Daniel have prospered on the globetrotting circuit, and the next wave is spearheaded by the wings Ugo Monye and Richard Hau-ghton, and Newcastle's back-row forward Phil Dowson.

"We get a lot of support from Clive Woodward," said Friday, the former Wasps scrum-half who captained England in the 2001 World Cup Sevens at a time when expectations were as low as a limbo dancer. "The young players are learning in an intense environment, and adapting to other countries, but it has to be a winning environment, too. That's where high- quality players like Henry Paul and, until he got injured, Phil Greening came in."

Monye's involvement in England's opening match against the Scots ended at half-time after the Harlequins flyer - scorer of 18 tries in three tournaments this year - suffered a dead leg in an accidental collision with David Gray. The combative Dowson was withdrawn after a stray elbow reversed a penalty in the Scots' favour, but England prevailed 12-7 with tries from Simon Amor, their captain, and Peter Richards.

England's warm-up routine before facing Italy coincided with an Austin Powers impersonator leading the sparse crowd in a singalong to "YMC". Apart from that unhappy juxtaposition, though, things went to plan, with Paul demonstrating his playmaking capabilities in a 40-0 win. Paul ran in a try from Italy's 10-metre line and was followed over by Amor, Ben Gollings and a hat-trick from Rob Thirlby, Monye's replacement.

Lydon, meanwhile, is in Auckland in his new role alongside Woodward, and Friday confidently predicted a transformation among England's backs as a result.

"Joe has got ideas of how he wants England's backs to attack, and he will keep some things and change a few things," said Friday. "There's something about him that just makes people want to play for him. His man-management skills are exceptional."

Friday implied a stagnation had set in since Brian Ashton ceased coaching England's backs to become National Academy director after the 2001 Six Nations' Championship. "Joe will bring a freshness to England's back line," Friday said, "which some could argue has been needed since Brian Ashton went. It is definitely a role Joe will excel at. He'll make them laugh, too."

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