Rugby Union / Divisional Championship: Midlands shot down by Bath big guns: South-West emerge as favourites after show of strength

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The Independent Online
South-West. . .31

Midlands. . . . 3

HOW the West was won - the success story of the Divisional Championship. For a long time the South-West did not appear to want to know and the big guns of Bath, Bristol and Gloucester invariably managed only to shoot each other in the foot when brought together.

But put a dozen of the League champions in some natty green and yellow jerseys nowadays and watch out. They even appear to be enjoying themselves. Winning helps, of course, and having acquired the habit for the first time last season, the South-West emerged as hot favourites again with this demolition of the Midlands. Wagons roll.

The poor old divisionals, however, are still not everyone's idea of having fun. 'Players can't take this sort of pounding week in and week out,' John Hall, the captain of Bath and the South-West, said on Saturday. 'We've now got 18 league games and surely that's enough to select an England team.'

Not according to Geoff Cooke. 'To go from club straight into international rugby is just too big a step,' the England manager said. 'Divisional rugby has proved itself to be very important to us. Clearly the evidence is that when we've had a good divisional system England have also prospered. That's fact.

'It helps to replicate what international rugby is all about in terms of preparing a side and bringing players together in a different environment. The Divisional Championshipgives players the chance to play games and sort out tactics before they play the All Blacks.'

Hall may have begged to differ with Cooke in one area, but there is no doubt that he is looking forward to his team's show-down with the New Zealanders on Saturday week.

And so is Victor Ubogu - discarded by England following last November's victory over South Africa - judging by the prop's storming display against the Midlands. He had a hand in the first try following a clean line-out take by Andy Blackmore, Nick Beal subsequently evading Simon Hodgkinson for Audley Lumsden to score.

Five minutes later, Ubogu punched a great hole in the Midlands defence with a stirring run resulting in a try for Beal himself. Before the break the tight-head had created similar destruction to send in Lumsden again. All this with only a penalty from Hodgkinson to halt the flow.

Ubogu has had critics over his scrummaging, but as Cooke said: 'I don't see the Bath scrum in too much trouble nowadays.'

Cooke would have liked to see Neil Back in action, but he had flu and his chances of facing the All Blacks next month may have flown. 'It would have been interesting to see how he would have coped in a defensive role against some powerful running from the South-West,' Cooke said.

He also hinted he was looking for a goal-kicking full-back against the tourists. That could be good for Jonathan Callard, who, having landed 70 points in his first 10 games this season, continued the good work by putting over three penalties and a conversion, besides laying on Adedayo Adebayo's try.

South-West: Tries Lumsden 2, Beal, Adebayo; Conversion Callard; Penalties Callard 3.

Midlands: Penalty Hodgkinson.

SOUTH-WEST: J Callard; A Adebayo, P de Glanville (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), A Lumsden; M Catt (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol); C Clark, G Dawe, V Ubogu, N Redman (Bath), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (capt), S Ojomoh, A Robinson (Bath).

MIDLANDS: S Hodgkinson (Moseley); S Hackney, S Potter, I Bates (Leicester), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), J Olver (Northampton), D Garforth (Leicester), J Phillips (Northampton), S Lloyd (Moseley), C Barrow (Bristol), D Richards (Leicester, capt), C Millhouse (Northampton). Replacements: A Kardooni (Leicester) for Dawson, 33; J Harris (Leicester) for Hodgkinson, 58.

Referee: D Matthews (St Helens).