Saracens put to the sword by Penguins

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The Independent Online

There were warriors, in the form of Samurai and Saracens, and stars from rugby league dotted among the Leeds squad, a few big names from the Zurich Premiership, Leicester, Northampton, Newcastle and Bristol, but it was a couple of creatures, great and small, Ronnie the Rhino and the Penguins, who stole the show at Twickenham.

There were warriors, in the form of Samurai and Saracens, and stars from rugby league dotted among the Leeds squad, a few big names from the Zurich Premiership, Leicester, Northampton, Newcastle and Bristol, but it was a couple of creatures, great and small, Ronnie the Rhino and the Penguins, who stole the show at Twickenham.

The Penguins were gathered together by Bill Calcraft, the former Wallaby flanker and a qualified solicitor, who acted in much the same way as an orchestral fixer, scouring the world to build up a squad that would be in tune and make great rugby music. They did.

In a repeat of last year's final, Penguins, captained by the Sevens maestro Waisale Serevi, put Saracens - Thomas Castaignÿde and all - to the sword and waltzed off with the £50,000 winners' cheque.

No one could cope with the wizardry of Serevi, the awesome pace of Villimoni Delasu, the sharpness of New Zealander Craig De Goldi, who scored two tries in the final, and the trickery of Danny Qauqau. Serevi was the highest points scorer in the tournament with 60.

And while it might not have been so surprising that they retained the title, given that they boasted a clutch of Fijians whose national sport is sevens rugby, it approached the realms of the miraculous that Calcraft was able to put out this side in the first place.

"The first snag was the political situation with this coup in Fiji," he said. "It took a lot of high-level negotiating to get permission for the guys to leave the islands. But having got that there was the small matter of tracking down the players.

"There are no phones in the islands so physically finding the guys is another problem. We eventually found one of them when he was mowing the grass out by the airport. Then we discovered we could only get two visas per week from the British Embassy."

In addition to Fiji, Calcraft trawled Canada, France, New Zealand and Australia as he carefully built up a squad of specialists which included the Kiwi Eric Rush, a legendary figure in the abbreviated version of the game.

But having obtained all the necessary documentation and got players to various airports around the world there were still snags. "We arrived in this country with nine players," added Calcraft. "Billy Satala decided to get off at Los Angeles. He only arrived on Friday afternoon."

It did not affect them very much. They annihilated the Premiership newcomers Rotherham 54-7, matching the score run up in the previous first round game by Northampton against London Welsh, dismissed the other invitation side Samurai in the quarter-finals, crushed a useful Newcastle in the semis, before the comprehensive 47-19 destruction of Saracens.

And so to Ronnie The Rhino. He is the Leeds Rhinos' mascot. The identity of the man in the costume is a secret closely guarded by the rugby league club, and no wonder. He is some character. He even stood for Parliament in the last election under the name of D Duffy, polling, according to Whitaker's Almanack, 232 votes in the Leeds North West constituency.

Duffy was a pseudonym, by all accounts. The party was "Ronnie". He certainly created a party atmosphere for the short time he was around West London. Leeds, featuring the brilliant Iestyn Harris, who admitted he wants to play union in Wales in the next three years, had already been thumped in the first round proper by Saracens, Ronnie doing various stunts including lying on his stomach and somehow propelling himself in a series of jerky and extremely tricky movements, to the amusement of the 23,000 crowd.

Leeds later crashed out of the Plate competition as well, proving that Sevens is a fine art and needs more than the two training sessions they were able to muster. But few willforget the acrobatic antics of their mascot.

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