Richardson ready to make ripples at HQ

Simon Turnbull meets Cumbria's captain for today's County Championship final
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Mark Richardson clocks on at 6am to start his working day in an ice cream factory in Egremont. Today he clocks on at 3pm at Twickenham - but the 80 minutes of graft ahead of him will be no working shift.

The County Championship final has survived as an anachronism in rugby union's new age. Richardson could not put a price on the pride that will flush through his 6ft 4in, 19st frame when he becomes the first man to lead Cumbria on to Billy Williams' cabbage patch.

In tangible terms, the captain and his team will receive nothing more than a blazer, a tie and a kit-bag for toiling in the studmarks of Martin Johnson, a pounds 200,000-a-year man in the professional era.

"There is no money involved," Richardson said yesterday. "But that has never concerned us. It means an awful lot to play at Twickenham.

"There is still a place in rugby for the county championship. Ourselves and Somerset will enjoy our day."

At 35, Richardson has played two decades of senior rugby to reach the Mecca of English rugby. He has finally made it, ironically, just a month after his first representative honour.

The No 8 known in Cumbria as "Tank" played for the Barbarians at Leicester. Richardson, captain of Aspatria, was a late replacement for Francois Pienaar, captain of the World Cup winners, South Africa.

"We won as well," Richardson pointed out. "To get to play against Dean Richards and then to play at Twickenham, it's been a good couple of months for me."

Richardson has spent all but three of his rugby-playing years in Cumbria. A debutant in the Egremont first team at 15, he played alongside Fran Cotton and Steve Smith for Sale in the 1980-81 season but tired of the lone, late night drag up the M6 after training.

He spent two years travelling with fellow Cumbrians John Butler and Neil McDowell to play for Gosforth, as the Tyneside club was still known in those BC days (Before Cash, or before Sir John Hall's at least). But Richardson's heart, like his home, has always been in England's top north-west corner. He returned to Egremont - where he works in his family's ice cream business - and joined Aspatria when they graduated to national league level seven years ago.

It might have been different. Richardson could have been among the paid ranks - the openly paid ranks - before Johnson, Pienaar and Richards.

He played rugby league in his youth and had a trial for Barrow, where his brother, David, a member of the Great Britain amateur team, became a professional. "David chose rugby league," Mark said, "and I chose to go the other way."

That way leads the union man in the Richardson family to Twickenham today for part one of Cumbria's weekend invasion of the capital. Carlisle United are at Wembley tomorrow for the final of the Auto Windscreens Shield.

"Hopefully Cumbria will be a ghost county for the next two days," Richardson said. "Carlisle getting to Wembley may affect our support but I would think there will still be at least 20,000 in total at Twickenham."

That would be a vast improvement on the past two finals, neither of which came close to attracting five-figure gates, though the hearts of the RFU would have doubtless been as full as the stands and the coffers had Cumbria's semi-final success against Cornwall at Redruth not scuppered the invasion plans of Trelawney's men.

Having survived the brimstone of Hell Fire Corner, Cumbria must fancy their chances of updating the history books today.

"If you look in the records," Richardson said, "we won the final as, Cumberland, against Kent at Carlisle in 1924. Funnily enough, Somerset's only win was in 1923. So, on most recent form, we should be the winners."