Rugby Union: Diprose rises to the occasion

Richmond 10 Saracens 15
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The Independent Online
A FANTASTIC match and a marvellous taster for the Tetley's Bitter Cup quarter-final which follows at the end of this month. In the end the players had flogged themselves to a standstill, by which time Saracens had done enough to keep the pressure on Allied Dunbar Premiership One leaders Newcastle.

Richmond will feel savaged, for they contributed massively to a superlative game. The two back rows flung themselves into everything with intelligence and passion, but for all the effort from Ben Clarke and Co they were eclipsed by Saracens' wilier trio of Richard Hill, Tony Diprose and Francois Pienaar.

Both sides are possessed of players with wonderful handling ability and at times the hand-to-hand stuff was thrilling, some passages of play leaving the 6,000 crowd as breathless as the players. There were some fabulous moments from Saracens, but once Richmond had warmed to their task they more than matched their opponents and as the interval approached they were stringing together some wonderful phases.

Throughout it all the busy figure of Augustin Pichot, their Argentinian scrum-half, could be seen. Unlike many Northern Hemisphere scrum-halves, the moment he could get his hands on the ball the diminutive Pichot launched another of his team-mates. He was particularly adept at finding one or other of the Quinnell brothers, Craig and Scott, in mid-trundle. His countryman Rolando Martin also benefited from Pichot's lightning quick service.

The two sets of forwards appeared to be evenly matched, Saracens were a shade more abrasive in the early exchanges, but it was Richmond's Clarke and Darren Crompton who had to undergo lectures from referee Steve Lander for apparently kicking and possibly boring in at a scrum respectively.

Amid all the thunder of attack there was a fair amount of blunder; turnovers, dropped ball, wild flings instead of discreet passes; defensively, though they could not be faulted, there were some spectacularly big hits and a clutch of try-saving tackles from both teams.

Second-placed Saracens had taken the lead in the fifth minute, their captain Diprose winning a line-out, recycling the ball to Pienaar, who sent hooker George Chuter close. A quick recycle and the ever dangerous Diprose pounced, thrusting himself through the tangle of Richmond bodies to get the final touch and the first of his two tries. Michael Lynagh converted.

An Adrian Davies penalty closed the gap after 35 minutes and in the third minute of injury time the right wing, Jim Fallon, hauled them in front with a try following a prolonged spell of pressure play in which Pichot and Martin had been prominent. Davies' conversion nosed Richmond in front temporarily.

Just 10 minutes into the second half Lynagh levelled proceedings and Saracens then began to assert themselves. They pushed upfield and, when Richmond transgressed, Pienaar's tapped penalty caught them off guard and Diprose was once again on hand to crash through. Lynagh missed the conversion but despite some frantic, but brave, counters by the home side, it was not a crucial miss. All in all it was an intoxicating cocktail and the return in the cup will make for compulsive viewing.

Richmond: M Pini; J Fallon, A Bateman, S Cottrell (T Whitford, 16), D Chapman; A Davies, A Pichot; M McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton, C Quinnell, C Gillies, R Martin, S Quinnell, B Clarke (capt).

Saracens: M Singer (D Thompson, 80); R Constable, P Sella, S Ravenscroft, R Wallace; M Lynagh, K Bracken; R Grau, G Chuter, P Wallace (A Olver, 11; B Reidy, 65), P Johns, D Grewcock, F Pienaar, T Diprose (capt), R Hill.

Referee: S Lander (Liverpool).