Rugby Union: A final fling for Andrew

Tetley's Bitter Cup: Veteran golden boy is Twickenham bound but modern version is in the wars
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The Independent Online
Richmond 3

Nnewcastle 20

NEITHER A borrower nor a lender be. In these financially gruelling times for both clubs the one may be unavoidable, but the other is suicidal. Yet Richmond lent such assistance to Newcastle in the Tetley's Bitter Cup semi-final yesterday that one could only wonder at their extraordinary generosity not only in giving Va'aiga Tuigamala the freedom of the pitch but in also allowing Newcastle such command at the line-out.

So profligate were they that Newcastle, despite losing their talisman Jonny Wilkinson with a nasty-looking blow to the head in the first half, comfortably secured their place in the final next month. It is 18 years since Newcastle, in their previous existence as Gosforth, made it to Twickenham but their understandable delight in getting there will undoubtedly be tempered by Wilkinson's injury.

The news, however, was not as bad as it might have been. There is apparently no sign of the concussion which would have forced Wilkinson out of England's Grand Slam finale against Wales at Wembley next Sunday. Given England's injury problems in midfield this will be welcome news for Clive Woodward and also for Newcastle as they prepare for the cup final. The swelling is expected to go down within the next couple of days and although no x-rays have been taken, there is no suggestion of a fracture.

In the event yesterday Newcastle had no need of Wilkinson's withering accuracy. They were given so much latitude that two tries by Tuigamala, backed up by Rob Andrew's masterful control, were all they required.

In the modern game when the line-out jumpers are propelled skywards by their supporting players, it is almost impossible to lose a ball on your own throw, yet Richmond managed it with breathtaking regularity and even more stupendous inaccuracy throughout the first half. It may be unfair to attribute all their problems to the throwing of Barry Williams, but he was surely not blameless.

It was also asking a lot of Craig Quinnell, who was playing off the back of the scrum and at the front of the line-out, to take so much upon himself. Not only that but on occasions he turned up in the centre, with Matt Dixon taking his place on the flank.

Richmond's problems at the line-out were all the more serious given the power and the organisation of the Newcastle forwards. Doddie Weir and Garath Archer had the time of their lives, as did Tuigamala and Peter Walton, the two runners who were so frequently called upon to punch holes in Richmond's hard-pressed defence. Walton may not be built to last the pace these days, but he is massively effective over short distances and in conjunction with Tuigamala he made a large number of dents in Richmond's armour.

It was from a line-out, won by Weir, and a well-concealed flip pass from Gary Armstrong that Tuigamala barged through Jon Barfoot's tackle for his first try after 24 minutes. No less impressive at this stage was the speed and accuracy of the Newcastle transfer from fore to aft and when Stuart Legg collected Agustin Pichot's weak clearance and Tony Underwood bravely worked the ball back from the ruck, Andrew struck with the lethal accuracy which accompanied all his kicking from the hand yesterday to drop a goal.

The five minutes before half- time were critical. In that spell Richmond had two series of punishing scrummages no more than five metres from the Newcastle line. They also had a couple of line-outs even closer but they came away empty-handed. Underwood was once again to the fore with a crushing tackle on Matt Pini.

For Richmond to have any hope of repairing the damage of the first half they had to score quickly and convincingly. Pini's penalty, struck from 40 yards out five minutes after the re-start achieved the former but not quite the latter and, after Tuigamala had surged up-field on another barnstorming run, Andrew restored Newcastle's lead with a penalty in front of the posts.

With one eye on the clock and only half an eye on Tuigamala, Richmond allowed the centre to rampage through another gap, this time after Andrew's floated pass had put him into space. With a check and a touch of acceleration he was round Dixon on a thunderous charge for a second try. Andrew converted and all hope for Richmond had gone.

In the final stages Pichot came close with a crabbing run towards the left touchline and Spencer Brown was also held up short by Newcastle's defence, which was as well-organised and impregnable as their lineout.

Richmond's failure to accomplish even the most basic function without error ruined what few opportunities remained to them and that in turn resulted in their utter frustration. Newcastle, for their part, were able to free-wheel for the final quarter of a game which they had dominated from the very first kick, which was taken by Richmond and hoofed into touch on the full. From that point on it was not to be Richmond's day and their season has no more to offer save for the struggle to stay in business.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, J Wright, M Dixon, S Brown; E Va'a, A Pichot; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton, A Sheridan (B Cusack, 54), C Gillies, C Quinnell, B Clarke (capt), R Hutton (J Barfoot, 29).

Newcastle: S Legg; T Underwood, M Shaw, R Andrew, V Tuigamala; J Wilkinson (J Nayor, 29), G Armstrong (capt); G Graham, R Nesdale, I Peel (S Best, 65), G Archer, D Weir, P Walton, R Beattie (H Vyvyan, 37-50), R Arnold.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).