Leicester lead the sevens revolt

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The Independent Online

They call seven-a-side rugby the "short game", so it is particularly appropriate that England will be seriously short of players when the International Board's World Sevens Series begins its hemisphere-hopping programme in the oval-ball oasis of Dubai in a little over a fortnight.

They call seven-a-side rugby the "short game", so it is particularly appropriate that England will be seriously short of players when the International Board's World Sevens Series begins its hemisphere-hopping programme in the oval-ball oasis of Dubai in a little over a fortnight.

Leicester, the Premiership champions, took it upon themselves yesterday to remind the G and T brigade at Twickenham that none of their employees would be released for any of the forthcoming tournaments apart from the World Cup Sevens in Argentina in January.

The Midlanders, who would presumably contribute Neil Back and Austin Healey to any first-choice red rose squad, are not alone in this; all 12 Premiership clubs under the umbrella of English First Division Rugby are singing from the same hymn sheet. Leicester simply felt the need to disabuse the Rugby Football Union of any fanciful notion they might have been harbouring of a Sevens thaw.

"While we have always strongly supported England by willingly releasing players, coaches and administrators in the cause of greater international success, we are reviewing this support in the light of current uncertainties surrounding the Rob Andrew proposals," said the club chairman, Peter Tom, referring to the dispute over the implementation of the Club England plan covering the top end of the domestic game and the consequent withholding of central funding. More threateningly, Tom said his club would review "all player releases" in response to the union's "failure to deliver on funding commitments", although he later insisted that his comments referred only to international Sevens competitions.

Howard Thomas, the EFDR chief executive, backed the Leicester statement and confirmed that the entire Premiership was as one on the issue. "Players will be released under the terms of all existing agreements - there is absolutely no problem in respect of the England Test team, for example - but there is no agreement on Sevens. In principal, we support the England sevens venture, but until a viable business plan is in place, we are under no obligation to make players available."

It may well be that England find themselves significantly under strength when they travel to Mar del Plata for the World Cup event. The tournament clashes with the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and Leicester are one of the sides chasing a last-eight place. So too are Saracens, who possess natural Sevens specialists in Kyran Bracken, Dan Luger, Richard Hill and Tony Diprose.

Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the men who inspired England to an entirely unexpected World Cup Sevens victory in 1993, is close to agreeing a new three-year deal with Wasps following protracted discussions with his director of rugby, Nigel Melville. In common with his colleagues, the former national captain has been frustrated by a lack of progress at club level: the bad vibes accompanying Wasps' early departures from the Heineken and Tetley's Bitter Cups have been exacerbated by lamentable training facilities at their old Sudbury ground and a perceived lack of suppport from the Queen's Park Rangers side of Loftus Road plc, the parent company of both teams. However, Dallaglio, a one-club man thus far, has signalled a willingness to commit himself to a further stint in the black shirt.

On the Test front, Taine Randell, the All Black captain during last year's World Cup, has been dropped from New Zealand's side for this weekend's rumble with France in Paris. The promotion to the blind-side flank of Reuben Thorne, one of nine Canterbury men in the line-up, brings to an end Randell's run of 38 consecutive silver fern appearances.

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