Rees keeps the division bell ringing

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The Independent Online
IT HAS not been the most successful of Divisional Championships. Probably the least, in fact, with tickets hard to sell, its winners labelled as cheats, and the competition attacked throughout as being utterly outmoded. So it was ironic that last Sunday,the day after the championship was completed, the news broke that a European club superleague was in the offing. Sexy stuff - so what future the dull Divisionals?

CIS, the championship's sponsors, are sticking with it. Last year, from a £250,000 investment, they recouped an estimated £1.5m of publicity from print media alone. "It's been called defunct, devalued, ridiculous, but it's doing its job," said Christina Harrison, the CIS press officer. "And the critics criticise, but they're still all there watching it."

The job it has done is to throw up undiscovered talent. And Gary Rees, captain of the winning Midlands side, believes it is a job well done, saying that Ian Skingsley, the Bedford No 8, is a prime example. Rees himself, however, is not. At 34 and with 26England caps, there is little to discover about him bar how much longer his little legs can carry him. He attempted to hang up his boots last season but was, of course, leading the Midlands to glory last week.

The glory was tainted as, for the second time in three matches, the Midlands were accused of being "cheats", an extraordinary allegation when their apparent transgression was simply a liberal attitude to the offside line. Was Rees upset? "Concerned," he says. "The situation has grown out of proportion. The London men over-reacted - they've just got a predictable game plan which we managed to stop. If you're against competent tacklers, you won't get past the gain line."

Here lies Rees's own strength: turning players in the tackle to put the ball on the wrong side. "And what's that if not a good tackle?" The skill is certainly an asset to the Divisionals, if only more people could learn to appreciate it.

FOR another 34-year-old still hitting the heights, look to Bryan Barley, the former England centre now at Sandal of North Division One. After 15 years at Wakefield, Barley went to Sandal last season for a quiet life. However, last season Sandal finished up in the Yorkshire Cup final - against Wakefield - and, on Saturday, they will play their first-ever Pilkington Cup fourth-round tie.

The opponents will be Lydney, only one league their superiors, but being the only qualifiers left in the competition, Sandal are cast in the role of Pilkington minnows. The town is, not surprisingly, buzzing with cup fever. Barley is thrilled to be a part of it, but has had to kiss goodbye to easy street. "I came here to wind down: less hassle, less commitment. It hasn't happened."

WALES and Cardiff may be missing the services of Mike Rayer, but Llandaff North are worried about his injury too. Rayer is a baseball player of considerable talent - he has captained Wales B - and Llandaff North were hoping to have him with them in the diamond this summer. Other players have shown baseball prowess: Mark Ring is an international, as is David Bishop, the league convert, who is remembered as a left-arm pitcher of terrific pace.