Midlands. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16
THANKS to the World Cup, last season you had to read the small print to find out what was happening in the Divisional Championship, the Midlands stealing away on the blind side to lift the title. Now it is business as usual, London again able to make use of capital assets in a competition that is always greeted with mixed emotions. Like it or not, though, few feel they can afford to turn their back on it.
So while Will Carling takes a holiday and Peter Winterbottom goes training, the rest turn up and try to turn it on. Rob Andrew, for example, actually enjoys the bash, which this year gives him some competitive rugby while waiting to qualify for league and cup action with Wasps. And if Andrew is uncomplaining, then London appear to be right behind their captain.
There was a hard edge to this match at Sudbury on Saturday, points to be made as well as scored, and the affair was lifted on the half- hour by the man determined to retain his position as England's stand-off. Andrew is well aware that Stuart Barnes is breathing down his neck, which he will be able to experience first hand at Gloucester next weekend when London shoot it out with the South-West, and here he showed everyone a clean pair of heels.
As John Liley set about spinning the ball from Alan Buzza's kick ahead, Andrew positioned himself perfectly to intercept Frank Packman's pass to Steve Pilgrim. The Midlands could only turn and chase as Andrew went half the length of the field for a try that gave London an eight-point lead at the break.
Andrew did more besides in a sharp all-round performance that suggests he is not about to be shifted. 'I'm happy with the way I'm playing,' he said. 'And I don't feel any different from last year or the year before. I've worked at my game and the pressure from Barnes has been there on and off for the past 10 years.'
As for the showdown at Kingsholm, we have a man who relishes the challenge in a competition others love to knock. 'Apart from exceptional club games, it gives you an edge before Christmas. I've always believed this is a worthwhile championship and while the South-West appear to have had their problems they appear now to have got the players who want to play.'
Or feel they have to, Barnes returning to the divisionals to provide an intriguing confrontation. Meanwhile, Andrew won praise from the most adventurous stand- off of his generation. Les Cusworth may have hung up a first- class pair of boots, but he spoke for the Midlands when he said: 'Andrew's try was the sucker punch. He controls things and reads a game exceptionally well.'
It was to help make all the difference, London looking to live with locks who are more accustomed to playing in the back row. This enabled the Midlands to lay more and more hands on line-out ball as the game progressed. But, as Dean Richards, their captain, said: 'You win games by causing errors and they did that very well. Although they didn't have much line-out possession, they put us under pressure. We kicked too long.' And in the long run, he might have added, there was just no stopping Rob Andrew.
London: Tries Ryan, Andrew, O'Leary; Conversion Andrew; Penalties Andrew 3. Midlands: Try Johnson; Conversion Liley; Penalties Liley 3.
LONDON: A Buzza; S Pilgrim (Wasps), M Evans (Harlequins), J Buckton, D O'Leary (Saracens); R Andrew (capt), S Bates (Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), M Russell, R Langhorn (Harlequins), M Skinner (Blackheath), D Ryan, J Cassell (Saracens).
MIDLANDS: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter (Leicester), F Packman, H Thorneycroft; J Steele (Northampton), A Kardooni (Leicester); M Linnett (Moseley), J Olver (Northampton), D Garforth, M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), P Shillingford (Moseley), D Richards (capt), N Back (Leicester). Replacement: M Dawson (Northampton) for Kardooni, 25.
Referee: S Piercy (Yorkshire).
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