Rugby Union: Division derision justified

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The Independent Online
Midlands. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14

London. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23

OPINIONS vary as to the merit of the Divisional Championship. Some claim it is a Mickey Mouse competition, while others object to this kind of comparison on the grounds that it is marginally less of an unfair slur on the Rugby Football Union than on the nation's rodents.

'With so much at stake the competition promises to be more intense than ever,' the sponsors' blurb assured us, a statement that does not wholly tally with the fact that by arranging under-21 and A- team matches for next weekend, England have made sure that London and the South-West will be battling for the title without half their best players. As showdowns go, Sudbury will not so much be bayonet and cannon next Saturday as water pistol and custard pie.

'It's a nonsense,' Tony Jorden, London's chairman of selectors, conceded after Rob Andrew's boot had worn down the Midlands, not to mention worn down a crowd wondering whether they were at Welford Road or Filbert Street. 'Unless divisional rugby assumes a more important profile, we might just as well not bother with it.'

None of this, though, could dampen the enthusiasm of the sponsors' programme essayist. 'Potential England players will be keen to catch the eyes of the selectors', he asserted, in which case they would have been marginally better off playing in a match where a selector was actually in attendance.

'I am sure you will not be disappointed by the action,' the notes concluded, although only a chilly north-easterly prevented the crowd from slipping into a coma as they peered up into the floodlights for a sight of the ball. At the end of the match, Andrew would have needed a pair of oven gloves to remove a smoking right boot, while the only time the players' hands came into play was when the forwards were engaging one another in fisticuffs.

This began in the opening minute and continued right the way through an ill-tempered game which Jorden suggested might have had its origins in newspaper suggestions after the previous week's All Blacks game that London were not overkeen on physical contact. The visitors came in for the majority of refereeing lectures, and although their forwards took control in the second half, particularly in the line- out, they were fortunate that all eight of them were still on the field.

The Midlands, minus their captain, Dean Richards, who has scrum pox, did not make best use of the wind at their backs in the first half, turning round only 9-3 ahead and minus their Leicester centre Ian Bates, who may miss most of the rest of the season with ruptured knee ligaments.

Andrew quickly levelled the scores after the break and Chris Sheasby and Dean Ryan then muscled over for close-quarter tries after Andrew (oblivious to the crowd's mounting derision) had driven London deep into the corners.

Midlands: Try Saunders; Penalties Steele 2; Drop Goal Packman. London: Tries Sheasby, Ryan; Conversions Andrew 2; Penalties Andrew 2; Drop Goal Andrew.

MIDLANDS: J Steele (Northampton); E Saunders (Rugby), F Packmman (Northampton), I Bates (Leicester), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); J Harris (Leicester), M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), J Olver (Northampton, capt), D Garforth, M Johnson (Leicester), S Lloyd (Moseley), J Wells ( Leicester), C Barrow (Bristol), N Back (Leicester). Replacement: S Purdey (Moseley) for Bates, 38.

LONDON: H Davies (Wasps); D O'Leary (Harlequins), G Childs, D Hopley, C Oti; R Andrew (capt), S Bates (Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore, A Mullins, A Snow (Harlequins), D Ryan, M Greenwood (Wasps), C Sheasby (Harlequins), R Jenkins (London Irish).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bristol.

Connor O'Shea, Lansdowne's full- back, is Ireland's only new cap against Romania in Dublin on 13 November.

IRELAND: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); R Wallace (Garryowen), V Cunningham (St Mary's Coll), P Danaher (Garryowen), S Geoghegan (London Irish); E Elwood (Lansdowne), M Bradley (Constitution); N Popplewell (Greystones), T Kingston (Dolphin), G Halpin (London Irish), P Johns (Dungannon), N Francis (Old Belvedere), M Galwey (Shannon), D McBride (Malone), B Robinson (Ballymena). Replacements: M McCall (Bangor), A McGowan (Blackrock Coll), R Saunders (London Irish), P O'Hara, P McCarthy (Constitution), K Wood (Garryowen).