Final sprint on the fast track for King

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

London 11 South-West 26

There are two ways of looking at the Divisional Championship. One is through a glass darkly at Sunbury, the home of London Irish and Guinness, and the other is through the fresh eyes of Alex King.

The divisionals are under threat of the death sentence from the RFU. They were intended as a stepping-stone between club and representative rugby but never really bridged the gap. The concept did not excite the majority of the players nor did it capture the imagination of the public. It caused more divisions than bonds and unimaginative selection did not help.

However, just as the championship prepares to take the blindfold it throws up a last-minute witness for the defence. King's plea for clemency is likely to fall on deaf ears but he is proof, albeit belatedly and in semi-isolation, that the system can work. "It is great preparation for a player like me," King said, "and it would be a shame if it was scrapped. If it had been scrapped last season I'd have stood no chance."

The case of the 20-year-old King is exceptional. The son of a doctor in Hove, his rugby has been limited to Hove RFC, Brighton College, Rosslyn Park and Bristol University. The South-West put him in the shop window and a week tomorrow he plays for England A against Western Samoa in Gateshead. "It's been the fast track all the way," he said. "Three weeks ago I was playing for my university on a Wednesday. It's been mad. I just hope the bubble doesn't burst."

King is by no means the finished product, but with England not over-endowed with gifted outside-halves, he is within touching distance of the ultimate promotion from pretender. For long spells this game between two teams with the limited ambition of sidestepping the wooden spoon resembled a bad B movie played in slow motion.

However, King illuminated the proceedings with some touches of class and he made a crucial contribution to both the tries scored by the omnipresent Richard Hill. The Saracens flanker has scored seven tries in five divisional games and this was the first time he was on the winning side.

King oversells the dummy and occasionally his distribution is ill-timed, but he is proficient in other regards and, the most important thing of all, he has got bags of guts. A tackle on Shane Roiser was one of the highlights of the game. At one point he also had a go at Andy Gomarsall, his England A partner, when the London scrum-half threw the ball away after the South-West had been awarded a penalty.

King, who is studying economics and accountancy at Bristol, kicks with his left foot but is right-handed. "I need to work on kicking with both feet," he said. "I'm under quite a lot of pressure and I'm not trying to do too many things." Richard Hill - not the Saracen, but the former Bath and England scrum-half, now with Gloucester - has made a move for King and there will almost certainly be others after his signature.

King's role model is Jonathan Davies. "I've got to build myself up," he said. "Not too much, perhaps half a stone. One of my strengths is my pace off the mark." He will face faster back rows than London's, who gave the impression that they were already attending the wake of the Divisional Championship.

Yesterday, the England A squad had a training session after assembling at the Richmond Hill Hotel. The nearby Petersham Hotel is reserved for the senior England players. "Some of my boys will get there soon," Keith Richardson, the England A coach, said. He had in mind players like Hill, Phil Greening and, of course, King, the stand-off who can afford to wait for the crowning glory of a full cap.

London: Try Allison; Penalties Gregory 2. South-West: Tries Hill 2, Hull; Conversion Hull, Penalties Hull 2, King.

London: J Ufton (Wasps); D O'Leary (Harlequins), N Greenstock (Wasps), L Scrase (Wasps), S Roiser (Wasps); G Gregory (Wasps), A Gomarsall (Wasps); S Brown (Harlequins), S Mitchell (Harlequins), G Holmes (Saracens), M Watson (Harlequins), M Langley (Saracens), G Allison (Harlequins), A Diprose (Saracens, capt ), M White (Wasps). Replacements: S Ravenscroft (Saracens) for Greenstock, 45; C Braithwaite (Wasps) for Rosier, 79.

South-West: P Hull (Bristol, capt); N Beal (Northampton), S Enoch (Pontypridd), F Waters (Bristol University), P Holford (Gloucester); A King (Bristol University), B Fenley (Gloucester); T Windo (Gloucester), P Greening (Gloucester), D Crompton (Bath), G Archer (Bristol), C Yandall (Saracens), P Glanville (Gloucester), E Rollitt (Bristol), R Hill (Saracens).

Referee: I Ramage (Scotland).

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