England's attempt to win gold in the Sevens tournament at the Commonwealth Games ended in despair after conceding a late try to Fiji in the quarterfinals on Saturday evening. Even an emphatic win in the plate competition the following day could not mask a massive disappointment for all the players involved.
"We really should have won it," said NEC Harlequins flank forward Pat Sanderson, after England showed their true colours on the Sunday by beating Canada (29-0) and Australia (36-12) to win the plate - the competition for the quarterfinalists who lost out in the chase for gold the day before.
"We are desperately upset and it will still take some time to get over it because we set our hearts on gold, but we proved on Sunday that we could have done it. It doesn't count for anything in the plate final, but at least we proved to ourselves that the dream was a reality and not just a dream."
England looked set for a semi-final showdown with South Africa after Paul Sampson had put the home nation in front early in the second half against Fiji. However, a late converted try when England should have secured their own lineout, led to heartbreak in the camp that not even Sunday's results could put right.
"It's nice to get one over the Aussies more than anything," continued 24 year-old Sanderson. "But we just underperformed in front of a great crowd, and we are gutted for them really that we couldn't have pulled off a gold medal."
However, the Chester born star was full of praise for the Games, which gave rugby players a chance to mix with a whole range of athletes.
"It's something I want to do again that's for sure," said Sanderson, who rated taking part in the Games as better than anything that he had achieved so far in rugby. "It's been amazing, I don't know what it would be like away from home, but to have the honour to play at home in the Commonwealth Games is everything and it's every bit as important to every single person who was out there as a World Cup would be or anything else - it's massive for us and I think it showed on Sunday."
"Getting up for those two games was probably the hardest games in my life to get up for because of the disappointment on Saturday evening, and it showed just how much it really meant to us."
England had begun the tournament in less than devastating fashion as they struggled to dismiss the threat from two minnows in world rugby; the Cook Islands and Kenya. But their performances on the second day in their final group match against Samoa and for most of the Fijian game in that quarterfinal gave supporters hope that at least a silver medal was theirs for the taking.
"I said to Joe (Lydon) that I have never felt more emotional before a game than in our opening fixture against the Cook Islands, and that includes any of my caps for England or any Cup Final. That was as bad as I've ever felt going into a game. Not so much physically, we knew that we were well prepared and all the rest of it, but I think it showed in our performance how massively nervous and tense we were and that we wanted to prove something. With the pressure off on Sunday, it showed what a talented side we had."
Sanderson disagreed with the assessment that they were too involved in the pre-match carnival type atmosphere of the games, and wants a second crack at the Games in Melbourne in 2006.
"We were not less focussed, but we are a young side who had never been to a Games before and it was a different experience to what we were used to and we are a young side and there are a few of us out there who could be playing in the next Commonwealth Games, and then I think you'll find we will find it a lot easier."
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.