As global rugby prepares to count the megabucks on offer at next month's World Cup in South Africa, and the International Rugby Football Board remains in torment with the problems of quasi-professionalism, the English game can rejoice at a competition which encapsulates its core values.
The Pilkington Shield, for the most junior 512 clubs in the Courage Leagues, continues to defy the seemingly inexorable shift towards payment for playing. Amid all the chatter about money there is an ennobling silence from those who only play for fun, for honour; and for the opportunity to run out on Twickenham's venerated turf on 6 May.
Watching St Albans defeat North Shields 21-8 in a sparkling semi-final at Claro Road, Harrogate, it made the heart glad to be reminded of the way rugby used to conduct itself.
After accounting for the favourites Wibsey - with the former England captain John Orwin in the Yorkshire club's giant pack - the Tynesiders were not to be taken lightly. On a grassless pitch North Shields had decided on a scorched-earth policy, with the fireman Shaun Hansen their torch bearer, as they rocked St Albans in a furious opening quarter.
The No 8 and captain had scored in every round, but St Albans had prepared themselves well for Hansen, though they were powerless to prevent Gary Crombie's penalty goal or a splendid try from the winger Ian Tubman. However, it was not enough, and the sides turned round at 8-3, St Albans' points coming from an Adrian King penalty.
It was a memorable day for the St Albans' coach, Bryan Green, once of Otago and more recently Leeds, who saw the centres Doug Morete and Graham Cox score a try each, King a second penalty, plus an injury-time touchdown for the wing James Dickinson.
"Bryan has brought structure, commitment and discipline to our game," King said. "And his thoroughness has got us to Twickenham."
On the big day St Albans will face Bedford Queens, who almost squandered a 21-0 lead against Kingsbridge in the other semi-final at Bristol's Memorial Ground. Kevin McMillim and Tim Clarke had scored tries. Andy Moffatt converted the first and kicked two penalty goals and David Twigden dropped a goal before the Devonians responded.
Three penalties from Chris Bowles, who also converted the full-back Alan Davies's try, brought it 21-16, when there was nothing else but a heroic fightback for the 10 coachloads of Kingsbridge supporters to cheer.Reuse content