England delight at third straight quarter-final
Mar del Plata
January 28, 2001

England avoided an embarrassing failure to qualify for the knock-out stages of the World Cup Sevens by the skin of their teeth in Argentina.

The unheralded squad will face Australia in the quarter-finals of the Melrose Cup in Mar del Plata tonight thanks in no small measure to Daisuke Ohata of Japan.

Ohata's injury-time try which gave his side a shock 12-7 victory over Spain allowed England to qualify on points difference despite losing 17-7 to New Zealand in their final Pool C match.

England, Japan and Spain were left locked together on points but it was the red rose team under coach Adrian Thompson who went through in second place behind the All Blacks.

The squad which was shorn of key players because of the Heineken Cup and Six Nations looked set to fail to reach the last-eight for the first time after the humbling defeat by Spain on the opening day.

But England, who won the inaugural World Cup in 1993 and reached the quarter-finals in Hong Kong four years ago, have been handed a second chance.

They will be full of confidence for the clash with Australia, who topped Pool D after beating Samoa 34-12 in the final match of the mammoth 60-game, tw0-day programme last night, after a battling display against the Kiwis.

Bath's Rob Thirlby claimed his fourth try of the weekend to give England, who beat Japan 24-7 in their other game yesterday, an early lead against the Commonwealth champions.

New Zealand, who had scored 158 points without reply since conceding an early score against Spain in their opener, also lost veteran skipper Eric Rush who was stretchered off after injuring his leg in a tackle.

But New Zealand hit back to maintain their perfect record in the group with second-half tries from Karl Te Nana, Jonah Lomu, his first of the tournament, and Rodney So'oialo.

``We have been given a second chance and now we have to try and take it,'' said Thirlby. ``It was a dreadful result against Spain, but we picked ourselves up.

``We knew that we could go through after Japan beat Spain but it would defend on points difference so we stuck to the game plan against New Zealand.

``We played really well against them and maybe could have beaten them. But we left our slower guys exposed to their pace men, but that comes with sevens experience and playing together more.''

England had been handed the unexpected lifeline when Spain slumped to defeat by Japan minutes earlier.

Japan took an early lead and defended that advantage until the final seconds when Spain grabbed a converted try. But in injury-time, Ohata burst through a gap to grab the winner.

Wales qualified for the quarter-finals of the subsidiary competition, the Plate, with third place in Pool D behind Australia and Samoa.

The Welsh followed-up an 19-10 victory over the United States - Gareth Baber, Gareth Wyatt and Will Thomas scoring the tries - with a 26-12 triumph over Hong Kong.

Wing Shane Williams sparked the four-try defeat with Emyr Lewis, Andy Marinos and Thomas adding the others leaving Wales with a winnable match against Japan later today.

``We had hoped to qualify for the quarter-finals of the World Cup, but that was going to be difficult against Samoa and Australia,'' said team manager John Ryan.

``But we are in the plate and we will try and do the best we can in that. The team are improving with every game they play.''

But Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the Plate competition were dashed when they were beaten 28-5 by Russia in their final match to finish fifth in Pool A.

They will now compete in the Bowl event - for teams that finished fifth and sixth in their group - where their quarter-final opponents will be Chinese Taipei.

``The players are very disappointed at missing out in the final game,'' said skipper James Topping, who gave his side an early lead against the Russians.

``Our aim was to get into the Plate, but we have to settle for the Bowl again."

Ireland had resumed their challenge yesterday with a draw against Korea before losing 33-12 to the hosts after a brave fightback from an early 19 point deficit.

Argentina, who finished second in the group to defending champion Fiji, will meet South Africa, beaten finalists in the last worlds four years ago, who were easy winners of Pool B.

Fiji will face Canada, one of only two representatives from the Northern hemisphere, in the opening quarter-final of the Melrose Cup.

The Fijians looked in awesome form yesterday as they trounced Kenya (52-7) and Korea (33-7) to top Pool A with a perfect record while Canada qualified from second place in Pool B.

New Zealand will meet Samoa in the other quarter-final.

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