Rugby Union: Cumbria capitalise on the Twickenham experience

Cumbria 21 Somerset 13
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The Independent Online
Cumbria 21 Somerset 13

Try telling Cumbrians that the CIS County Championship is an anachronism, a dirty great tyrannosaurus rex stomping through the bright and shiny new town of professional rugby.

Clutching a can of bitter that was dwarfed by his bear-like hand, Mark Richardson, the captain of the triumphant Cumbrians, spoke after the match for the 95 per cent of the rugby-playing fraternity that he represents.

"This is the proudest day of my life," he asserted. "I played for the Barbarians about six weeks ago - that was proud. But it will have to take second best to today. It was a tremendous occasion. I've never experienced anything like it. To walk out and sing the national anthem and face the West Stand - there was a lump in your throat."

Sitting next to him, his coach, Tom Borthwick, felt similarly moved. "In some areas, the County Championship appears to be devalued," he conceded, "But for me it's worth keeping in the rugby calendar to give players experience of this stadium and atmosphere." Given that there were only 8,150 people scattered across Twickenham's vast expanses, the atmosphere was certainly feverish. The supporters' exuberance was rewarded with a passionate encounter.

Though shaded up front - Somerset snatched two tries from lines-out close- in - Cumbria were manifestly sharper in the backs.

On the half hour, a sustained handling movement brought Cumbria a penalty 10 metres out, from which the lock Andrew Bell charged over. Soon after half time, the impressive Steven Davidson seared down the right wing to set up the flank forward, Stephen Milnes.

Afterwards Somerset's captain, Mark Venner, dignified in defeat, summed up what the County Championship had meant to him. "It's a wonderful competition for grass-roots rugby."

And what, in this age of telephone-number salaries, had this particular rugby player earned for his afternoon's endeavours? "The jersey you see now and the shorts."

Cumbria: Tries Bell, Milnes; Conversions: Scott; Penalties Scott 3. Somerset: Tries King, Rees; Penalties Edmonds.

Cumbria: G Cook; D Warwick, P Burns, M Lynch, S Davidson; M Scott, P Thompson; S Irving, M Armstrong, J McCune, A Bell, B Atkinson, S Milnes, S Cusack, M Richardson (capt).

Somerset: M Westcott; D Underwood, D Fox, A Webber, P Blackett; N Edmonds, L Hirons; J Barnes, C Rees, A Harris, M Rackham, M Curry, J King, M Venner, S Withey.

Referee: B Campsall (RFU).