DUBAI // Nick Royle would have been advised to give his mother a call last night to say thanks, following a triumphant first day as an international rugby player. The unheralded 25-year-old winger nearly missed a text message from the England team management inviting him to attend fitness testing for the sevens side two months ago, after swapping his mobile telephone.
He ended up receiving it the night before the trials were taking place, and his mother drove him through the night from Blackpool, on England's north-west coast, down to Twickenham in London in time to make the session. Two months on, and he was England's hero on the opening night in Dubai as they came from behind to beat Kenya, to set up a quarter-final with Argentina this morning. Royle juggles his full-time job with playing for Fylde, a mid-table side in the third tier of English rugby, and even plays rugby league on a Sunday when the union season overlaps.
"It has been an awesome experience, I've loved every minute of it," said Royle, who first came to England's attention two years ago, before a shoulder injury meant he drifted out of contention. "Gloucester have been on the phone to me saying they are interested in me, but because I have had an injury I have not been able to go down there. "Luckily I have had this call-up so I am back in the shop window again. I want to get back into full-time rugby.
"I'm going to play the best I can and see what happens from here." Ben Ryan, the England coach, added: "He runs like he is going to fall over with every stride, but he just gets to the line. "He is our golden ticket. We have given him a chance and he has grabbed it with both hands, so I am really pleased for him." Elsewhere, the Arabian Gulf knew they faced a tough task long before this weekend arrived, after being drawn in the pool of death, along with world series champions South Africa and World Cup winners Wales.
The regional side had done so much to restore faith in the white jersey at last year's Sevens, as well as March's World Cup on home soil. Yet three hefty defeats, in particular the second-half capitulation in the opener against the team perceived as the weakest in the group, Australia, were a reminder of the bad old days of Gulf rugby. Marcus Smith, one of the few players who has been around long enough to remember when the Gulf used to spend 14 minutes limiting damage rather than looking for tries of their own, at least had the consolation of touching down twice.
"There was a bit of ranting and raving from a few people after that first game [a 47-7 loss to Australia] and I think we put it right after that," said Smith. "A few of the senior players have tried to work on a positive mental attitude this year. "That is the difference between these guys who are professional sports people and us guys who are amateurs." Their troubles were capped off by a 50-0 thrashing by Wales, for whom Alex Cuthbert, a lightning-paced winger, was getting busy establishing himself as a new star of the sevens game.
The Gulf's Josh Sherrin fractured a thumb in the first game against Australia, but strapped it up and played the remaining two matches, before heading to hospital last night. William Ryder, the protege of the great Waisale Serevi and a player who is regarded by many as the most exciting talent in the sport, went undefeated on his first day back in the Fiji side. The former footballer scored three tries in facile wins over Scotland and Zimbabwe, then knocked over a touchline conversion to seal a 12-12 draw with Samoa.
The Fijians will take on the defending champions, South Africa, in a mouthwatering quarter-final today. Paul Delport, the captain of the Boks, said: "Last year we came here hoping to win, now we are expecting to win." Sherwin Stowers added to his growing reputation as he guided New Zealand into a quarter-final with Kenya. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org