Rugby Union: Derbies adopt festive spirit

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The Independent Online
BOXING Day is traditionally for local rivalries, but, far from being the most competitive date on the fixture list, as it once was, it is now just about the least. Gone are the days when derby matches took place in a spirit of ill will to all men, when supporters could get stuck into some red meat after the tame pallor of the previous day's turkey.

Leagues and Cups, divisional championships and international squad sessions have put paid to Boxing Day as a showcase occasion for the leading players, although it still has some appeal to club treasurers. But even the need to put cash through the books cannot buck the weather which put paid to most of England's fixtures.

Surprisingly, the elements allowed more action in Scotland and Wales, often the first regions to be affected by bleak midwinter.

In Wales, at least one matter of competitive significance was resolved when Dunvant, the Second Division leaders, earned a trip to Tonyrefail in the fifth round of the Welsh Cup on 23 January by winning 14-3 at Oakdale.

London Welsh put up a stout display at Stradey Park before losing 15-13 to Llanelli. Cardiff, the First Division leaders, underlined their quality by thrashing Pontypridd 56-8, but once-mighty Neath lost 25-14 at Aberavon while Bridgend and Maesteg drew 10-10 and Newport lost 21-16 at Bristol.

Glasgow High beat Academicals 18-8 while the main examination in Edinburgh resulted in an 18-15 win for Heriot's FP over Watsonians.

England's derbies were generally more one-sided - Bath cruised past Clifton 28-0; Newcastle Gosforth emphasised the ever-widening chasm between themselves and Northern to the tune of 42-0; and West Hartlepool, of the First Divisions, proved most uncharitable to their neighbours, Hartlepool Rovers, from Northern Division 1.

A full-strength West Hartlepool team, which has made considerable strides of late, were predictably too strong for their hosts at the Friarage, and the 49-5 margin in their favour gave them a record win after 187 meetings between the clubs.

Paul Evans, West's No 8, scored a hat-trick of tries and the centre Craig Lee ran in two. Other tries came from David Blyth, Kevin Oliphant and John Stabler, who also supplied three conversions and a penalty.

More closely contested was Fylde's 11-7 eclipse of Preston Grasshoppers in front of around 2,500 spectators. The visitors, minus their England lock Wade Dooley, who was elsewhere on police duty, were undone by a Martin Greatrex try and two Mike Jackson penalties against a penalty try converted by Bill Thompson.