Rugby Union: Dawe brings Bath's spirit to South-West: Poor preparation behind London's squandered opportunities in Divisional Championship finale

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The Independent Online
London. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

South-West. . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

STEWARDS ringed the pitch to prevent any crowd invasion and that was an act of the utmost optimism. Barely 7,000 people attended the belated denouement of the controversial Divisional Championship and although the committee box was full, the England management team of Geoff Cooke and Dick Best, two of the staunchest defenders of the competition, gave Twickenham a miss.

As did every member of the England team that beat the All Blacks here bar one, Jonathan Callard, the South-West full-back. Callard, who kicked four penalties on his debut against New Zealand, landed four more yesterday to help the South- West regain a championship they won for the first time last season.

In previous years the South-West were divided over the Divisional matches and found the marriage of players from Bath, Bristol and Gloucester quite unnatural. The sea change in thought and deed was exemplified by the captain, Graham Dawe, and the Bath habit of winning has finally permeated through the team. CIS has underwritten the championship to the tune of pounds 750,000 and while it may be unloved by the public and the leading players, somebody has to win the large silver trophy and Dawe received it with a measure of pride.

The Bath hooker has virtually been out in the cold since that infamous match with Wales in Cardiff in 1987 and yesterday he admitted: 'I'm desperate to get back in.' He added: 'The fact that we got 21 players together was a great achievement. Some guys put their reputation on the line. Just look at Callard.'

The match should have been played at the Wasps ground last November but the All Blacks tour led to a fine old congestion in the fixtures. Both sides had time for only one training session and if that at times was all too painfully evident, an air of excitement was manufactured by the fact that for most of the game there was never more than a single score between them.

Guy Gregory, the London stand- off, kicked at goal even more impressively than Callard and his fourth penalty edged London ahead 17-15 with 13 minutes remaining. Gregory received 28 passes and kicked 12 times; Paul Hull, his opposite number, received 30 passes and kicked 23 times but when he finally opened out, Mike Catt was able to send Paul Holford over for the conclusive try.

Holford's relief was immense for it was his glaring missed tackle on Jeff Alexander that led to the game's only other try in the 24th minute that put London ahead 11-9. London, the more adventurous, were careless and several attacks broke down because of poor passing and handling. 'There is no disappointment in our changing-room,' Steve Bates, the London captain, said. 'It was a game for the players. We tried to play a running game. If we'd had more time to prepare it might have been different. The Divisional Championship is only devalued if the performance of the players is ignored.'

Bates's own performance caught the eye and if the players who offered their Bank Holiday services can expect to chalk up a few brownie points with the England selectors it is inconceivable that they will displace the men who helped England, in front of 67,000 people, defeat New Zealand on the same ground.

The majority of the 7,000 who braved Twickenham yesterday huddled for warmth in the old west stand and some even imbibed in the Twickers tradition of having a picnic in the car park. Devalued? John Lockyer, chairman of the South- West selectors, would have none of it. 'There were people here who were visiting the greatest cathedral of rugby for the first time because they can't normally get tickets,' Lockyer said. 'That also applies to some of our players. Dawe pulled this side up by its bootlaces. We've done the competition proud.'

London: Try Alexander; Penalties: Gregory 4. South- West: Try Holford; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 4; Drop goals Beal, Hull.

LONDON: A Buzza (Wasps); D O'Leary (Harlequins), H Davies, F Clough (Wasps), J Alexander (Harlequins); G Gregory (Nottingham), S Bates (capt); G Holmes (Wasps), G Botterman (Saracens), J Probyn (Wasps), A Snow (Harlequins), A Diprose (Saracens), M Greenwood (Wasps), C Sheasby (Harlequins), M White (Wasps).

SOUTH AND SOUTH-WEST: J Callard (Bath); M Lloyd (Bath), M Catt (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), P Holford (Gloucester); P Hull (Bristol), R Hill (Bath); C Clarke (Bath), G Dawe (Bath, capt), D Hinkins (Bristol), A Blackmore (Bristol), R West (Gloucester), S Ojomoh (Bath), D Sims (Gloucester) D Eves (Bristol).

Referee: G Simmonds (Cardiff).

(Photograph omitted)

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