Sevens rich in promise

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The Independent Online

Rugby Union is back with a series of skirmishes at Twickenham in the Eurobet Middlesex Charity Sevens, and what is being billed as the Battle of Britain in Cardiff where Leicester Tigers are the visitors.

Rugby Union is back with a series of skirmishes at Twickenham in the Eurobet Middlesex Charity Sevens, and what is being billed as the Battle of Britain in Cardiff where Leicester Tigers are the visitors.

But Twickenham boasts the highest fliers; indeed many people argue that the £50,000 winners' cheque deserves to go to the Penguin International invitation side captained by Waisale Serevi, the Fijian sevens maestro, and featuring the New Zealander Eric Rush.

Followers of Samurai International, another guest side, would probably argue differently. Matty Isaacs, who is captain of the Australian World Grand Prix squad and Paul Williams, a Welsh sevens specialist, line up in their squad; and the combined codes unit of Leeds, boasting Iestyn Harris and Karl Pratt, also promise to entertain.

The rank outsiders of this year's tournament have to be London Nigerians. This is only the second time the Exiles have reached the competition proper, but this time they qualified impressively by hammering Rosslyn Park 45-0.

For all their lack of experience they have plenty of pace and one name to look out for is their flying doctor, Ugo Ekeowa.

The Nigerians open against Leicester, most of whose first-team players will be otherwise engaged in the showpiece match in Wales, which features the English Premiership champions and the Welsh-Scottish title winners, at which between 8,000 and 10,000 supporters are expected. They are likely to see the Wales wing Gareth Thomas at full-back, but Tigers will be without the England No 8 Martin Corry.

The Sevens curtain-raiser today should entice most of the spectators to their seats by the 11.20 kick-off, featuring as it does Saracens - with France's Thomas Castaignÿde and England's Richard Hill - against that strong Leeds side.

Northampton have named a strong squad which includes top international performers such as Pat Lam (Manu Samoa), Allan Bateman (Wales) and Scotland's Budge Pountney, and they should win their first-round encouter with London Welsh.

The organisers have been pleased with ticket sales, which are just under 20,000, though a spokesperson, Brenda Hobday, admitted yesterday that the switch in dates from the traditional end of season in May to a pre-season one at the height of summer had had an effect. But she added: "We think this slot will be preferable and it is significant that this year we have had more support from the Premiership clubs than ever before."

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