Rugby Union: Barnes brings back the colour

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The Independent Online
North. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

South-West. . . . . . . . . . . . .29

IF YOU had seen Stuart Barnes mid-morning on Saturday you would not have given much for the South-West's chances in the first round of the ADT Divisional Championship a couple of hours later. As others drank coffee, Barnes was being ill, the victim of gastro-enteritis. He was sick again at half-time, hiding his discomfort in a discreet circle of team-mates and officials near the centre of the Headingley pitch.

By then, he had done enough to spur his team on to a comfortable victory over the North, last year's runners-up, and underline once again how committed he is to regaining his England place. Frankly, the way he is playing at present, sick or not, it is hard to believe there is a better stand-off in England.

A year ago this match attracted 124 spectators to Kingsholm - including replacements and the like. For the South-West, those were the bad old days when they were such a dissension-ridden rabble they nearly always lost. Prior to Saturday, they had lost 15 of their 21 divisional matches since 1985.

Enter Barnes. Determined to displace Rob Andrew as England's stand-off, he has committed himself to divisional rugby as a means of doing so. 'Once Stuart made himself available for England this year I had only two questions for him - would he play for us and would he captain the side,' Keith Richardson, the South- West's coach, said. Luckily, the answers were yes.

It was no hindrance to the South-West that two-thirds of their players were from Bath, the best club in the country. The back row, the half-backs and the full-back are key positions in the modern game and though Hill would not want to shout about his passing nor Barnes his kicking and Guscott and Webb were not exactly paragons either, nevertheless they were so involved and swung into action so quickly and so often that the North could not match them.

Dewi Morris went off with damaged ribs at half-time after being injured near the start. That did not help the North. Nor did the fact that Wade Dooley failed to get much line-out ball. When two of England's best are thus taken out of consideration, then ignominy is not far away. Matt Greenwood was a rumbustuous No 8 committed to the cause as much as anyone. Inevitably, however, he was cast in a defensive role and was overshadowed by Ben Clarke who, judging by his appearances in the loose and with the ball in his hands, had a dazzling game.

The most significant aspect of all in this game was how much control Barnes can exert, even when he is off colour. He was the pivot, the playmaker, breaching the defence, kicking, passing, calling all the shots. Frankly, next Saturday's game at Gloucester between Barnes's South-West and Rob Andrew's London will be worth walking to Gloucester to see. And you cannot say that about many games at Gloucester these days.

North: Penalties Grayson 3. South-West: Tries Morris 3, Beal 2. Conversions Webb 2.

NORTH: I Hunter (Northampton); N Heslop (Orrell) B Barley (Wakefield), K Simms (Liverpool St Helens, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson (Waterloo), D Morris; M Hynes (Orrell), S Mitchell (West Hartlepool), M Whitcomb (Sale), T Rodber (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), P Walton (Northampton), M Pepper (Nottingham), M Greenwood (Wasps). Replacements: D Scully (Wakefield) for Morris, h/t; M Jackson (Fylde) for Heslop, 46.

SOUTH-WEST: J Webb (Bath); N Beal (Northampton), P de Glanville, J Guscott (Bath), S Morris (Gloucester); S Barnes (capt), R Hill (Bath); C Clark (Swansea), K Dunn (Wasps), J Mallet, N Redman (Bath), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall, A Robinson, B Clarke (Bath).

Referee: J Bacigalupo (Scotland).

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