Football: Johnson stakes England claim as Midlands contain North

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The Independent Online
North. . . 13

Midlands. .16

THE two defeated teams in the ADT Divisional Championship did little at Blundellsands to suggest their defeats eight days ago were unjust. This was a formless game full of spills, not many thrills, and one that must have been exasperating to play in. It was certainly exasperating to watch - all those fumbled moves and an air of lack of interest.

The North, were, if anything, as bad as when they were beaten by the South-West at Headingley. Ian Hunter fumbled one catch, fell over attempting to run out of defence on another occasion and missed a simple touch on a third. Rory Underwood was easily rounded when Stuart Potter scored the first try. Paul Grayson is an elegant and lengthy kicker who had the chance to level the score midway through the second half, but he has yet to learn how to stamp his personality on a game such as this. There was a moment when David Sculley, the North scrum-half, shouted out in extreme frustration, 'Get the ----ing ball out.' Those few of us in the stand and around the touchline knew exactly how he felt.

The Midlands, the champions, did at least win, outscoring the North by two tries to one. But their inability to secure the ball and thus make any serious attacks was worrying. Again and again moves were stopped and the North frenziedly countered.

Martin Johnson did his England cause no harm and nor did Neil Back, whose ability to be near the ball wherever it is on the field is remarkable, almost uncanny. Johnson was credited with the Midlands' second try which at least showed that they had been paying attention when the Australians scored one similar against the Barbarians at Twickenham.

From 25 yards out, the Midlands forwards grabbed the ball and drove and drove and drove. They didn't stop long enough to worry the referee, Ed Morrison, and, reaching the line, they hurled Johnson over to touch down.

By the same token, Tony Underwood made no mistakes and indeed scored one scorching try. This owed a lot to his speed, although the initial burst through the Midlands defence had been made by his brother. No one was capable of catching the younger Underwood when he had 60 yards to run. This try and Grayson's conversion gave the North the lead again. They didn't hold it, however. They didn't deserve to.

NORTH: I Hunter (Northampton); T Underwood (Leicester), B Barley (Wakefield), K Simms (Liverpool, St Helens, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson (Waterloo), D Scully (Wakefield); M Hynes (Orrell), S Mitchell (West Hartlepool), M Whitcombe (Sale), K Westgarth (West Hartlepool), D Baldwin (Sale), T Rodber (Northampton), M Pepper (Nottingham), M Greenwood (Wasps).

MIDLANDS: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter (all Leicester), F Packman, H Thorneycroft (both Northampton); R Angell (Coventry), M Dawson (Northampton); M Linnett (Moseley), J Olver (Northampton), D Garforth, M Johnson (both Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), P Shillingford (Moseley), N Back, D Richards (Leicester, capt). Replacement: John Steele for Hackney, 8 min.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

Scores: Grayson (pen, 2 min, 3-0); Potter (try, 23 min, 3-5); Steele (pen, 30 min, 3-8); Steele (pen, 33 min, 3-11); Grayson (pen, 43 min, 6-11); T Underwood/Grayson (try/conv, 46 min, 13-11); Johnson (try, 54 min, 13-16).