Money men on show at Richmond

David Llewellyn on the Second Division match involving 16 international s which dominates today's Courage League action
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The Independent Online
The professional rugby union circus is in town. Fly posters along the A316 depicting a pit bull against a fly boy announce it brazenly enough. But in case anyone was in any doubt, the tented village that has sprung up at Richmond is conclusive enough. It may be the Second Division but Richmond against Newcastle eclipses all other Courage League confrontations today.

The pictures on the posters are of Brian Moore and Rob Andrew, but they could just as easily be of the clubs' millionaire backers Ashley Levett and Sir John Hall.

This is the cheque book challenge. Today will give the first indications of what the big money has bought. The match throws together 16 internationals - eight per team - in the two clubs who were most active in recruiting.

But the acquisition of such star-studded line-ups begs a question: what happened to the class of 95-96 in each club?

A lot have stayed on. But in Newcastle's case around 20 packed their bags and re-formed Gosforth RFC. Their new ground, Bullocksteads, is just a couple of hefty Andrew punts away from Kingston Park, but in League terms they are light years apart. Gosforth are in Durham and Northumberland Division Four, the basement - although they are top and unbeaten.

But spare a thought for the hopeful youngsters of last year, who earned Richmond promotion from Division Three. The only survivors from that first team squad to have played this year are the centre Mike Hutton and the flanker Luke Jones. The latter is out of today's team and the former looks like having to give way to Allan Bateman the ex-Wales centre, who has joined Richmond from Cronulla Rugby League side in Australia. A lot of the wannabies have remained at the Athletic Ground, but some have left. Dan Luger to better things at Harlequins. Others to lesser clubs.

It is not merely that they do not have a prayer of breaking back into the First XV at the expense of the star buys; it is as much that they do not want to be full-time professional rugby players. They already have careers outside the game. One young player, who wished to remain anonymous said: "A lot of us have joined clubs where we can maintain a high standard of rugby and hold down a career at the same time. I don't know of anyone who is unhappy at what has happened at Richmond."

So the Athletic Ground becomes the stage for the All-Pro show. The shapes of the present and the future will slog it out for win bonuses and try to justify the cash being spent on them.