Rugby: Rich rewards for Richmond

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The Independent Online
To have and have not was duly played out here as Richmond, well- heeled and well-connected, became champions of the Second Division. Richmond, who had already secured promotion, defeated Nottingham, already destined for relegation, by five tries and three penalties to nil.

Nottingham arrived at the Athletic Ground to be greeted by the sight, in front of the main stand, of a poor pig being roasted on a spit. The spectacle of the once-proud Midland club being roasted alive was barely less gruesome.

The new-look Richmond is a polyglot squad drawn from, among others, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Western Samoa and, of course, England. They collected the Second Division trophy from Tony Hallett, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union and a former Richmond player. At least Hallett was home- grown.

Yesterday Nottingham, who have a new director of rugby, the well-travelled Barrie Corless, showed a lot more resilience than the last time they met here in November when Richmond won 70-5. They were never going to beat Richmond but it was a heartening performance in damage limitation against a home side who were parading a myriad of star imports. One who was missing was their injured Lion, Scott Quinnell.

Nottingham spent virtually the entire first half bravely defending their line. It took Richmond 14 minutes to get any points on the board when Simon Mason kicked a penalty. It took them another six minutes to register their first try through the left-wing Spencer Brown.

Richmond, principally through Craig Quinnell and the athletic Steve Atherton, dominated possession, especially in the line-out but, on an overcast damp day, handling errors meant that they increasingly squandered scoring chances. But another try from Adrian Davies gave Richmond a modest lead of 13-0 at half-time.

Nottingham defended with such vigour that at one point early in the second half the hookers Charlie Claydon and Brian Moore exchanged blows and were spoken to by the referee.

Mason landed a couple of more penalties but generally his kicking was wretched. He failed to convert any of the tries, miskicking with embarrassing regularity.

It took a fine performance from Andy Moore, the former Cardiff and Cambridge University scrum-half, finally to exploit Richmond's domination by helping himself to two tries and Ben Clarke also crossed after bursting from a scrum close to the Nottingham line. It was enough but it was not one of Richmond's most glittering days.

In truth they were already celebrating before the kick-off, issuing an invitation which read: "One year later Richmond rocks on. On 7 May 1996 (the first day of the professional era) we promised new players and promotion. On 7 May 1997 we promise you even more exciting news. Join us at the Hard Rock Cafe for superb food and unlimited booze."

It may be the professional era but the game still enjoys the old, coarse joke. The invitation added: "Ambulances at 12.30am." The tickets cost pounds 40 each.

The architect of Richmond's rise is the Monaco-based millionaire Ashley Levett, who put pounds 2.5m into the club. "Everyone here is working to a five- year plan. By the time we reach that point we will be one of the most powerful sides in Europe," Levett claimed.

"I may be poking my neck out here but I think we will be close to breaking even the season after next. Our initial target was promotion which we have achieved and next year we'll be more than happy to finish in the top half of League One. Clearly, for us to sustain Premiership status we are going to have to spend money in the close season on new players. I don't see us doing that on an annual basis but we know the top flight will be fierce.

"Our plan does not involve going up and then languishing around the bottom of the league. There isn't a bottomless pit of money here and, if you like, we have to pay to play this season. When we took over we were a Third Division side and had to convince top-class players to commit themselves to our cause."

Richmond: S Mason; J Fallon, A Bateman, E Va'a, S Brown; A Davies, A Moore; J Foster, B Moore, D Crompton, C Quinnell, S Atherton, L Jones, B Clarke (capt), A Vander.

Nottingham: R Byrom; R Bygrave, J Hall, D Smith, M Holland; D Evans, A Royer (capt); M Freer, C Claydon, G Pearce, B McCarthy, R Sussum, G Bibby, I Gordon, J Brennan.

Referee: D Chapman (RFU).

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