Sevens' sell-out

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Never mind the prospects of poor weather and the fact that England's finest are holding themselves in readiness for the forthcoming World Cup, today at Twickenham the Middlesex Sevens will be played out in front of a record 53,000. And if you are thinking of joining the throng at the last minute, forget it.

There will be no tickets for sale on the day, which shows that forward planning is not just the preserve of team management. On the other hand, today's Sevens record may not last too long.

"It's the biggest attendance for a non-international here apart from the Pilkington Cup final and the University Match," Derek Mann, the tournament organiser, said. But then: "We don't open up the East and North upper stands because we don't think people can cope with sitting up there on high for eight hours, though we are beginning to wonder if we might have to."

After the appearances here of sides from Western Samoa, Fiji and Zimbabwe there is a visit this time from Ithuba, an all-black team from South Africa, who would have made the trip last year but for some politics back home.

With the Middlesex event committed to a policy of Southern hemisphere involvement, Ithuba had been invited as replacements for Border, who had to withdraw when they reached the final of South Africa's Lion Cup.

Ithuba, though, had a run-in with Louis Luyt, the president of the South African Rugby Union, who apologised but said there was an embargo on further tours and that they should have applied for permission to travel the previous September.

Now Ithuba - an Xhosa word meaning "chance" or "opportunity" - have arrived and will be assured of a warm welcome after preparing their act in the London Floodlight and Caldy Sevens tournament. The other guest side are Selkirk, who will also be making their debut.

Bath, who beat Orrell 19-12 in last year's final, will be defending their title. Among the six qualifiers are Reading, Haywards Heath and West Sussex Institute.