Rugby Union: Evergreen Harrison steals the final show

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The Independent Online
Yorkshire. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .26

Durham. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

THIS was more like the good old days of county rugby, when the 'have boots, will travel' philosophy saw a jolly bunch contesting a championship that was the backbone of the game.

Last Wednesday, Mike Harrison, whose activities this season have largely been confined to the Wakefield second team, received the call when Jon Eagle failed a fitness test. But Harrison, the 38-year-old former England captain and wing, went a step further than merely turning up.

In a final as fit as any to grace the Twickenham turf, Harrison rounded off a fine Yorkshire gallop to their 12th title with the county's second try. In his heyday, Harrison earned the nickname Burglar Bill and when David Breakwell broke and Guy Easterby lent support, the old-timer made no mistake.

Youngsters could pick up a thing or two from Harrison, which is why this season he was chosen to manage the England Emerging Players. And how he enjoys his rugby, in particular the county variety at a time when the championship has had more than its fair share of knockers. On Saturday, he championed the cause by word and deed. 'I've been a great stalwart of county rugby,' he said.

His sincerity has never been in doubt, though he conceded: 'I'm sure this was my last county match.' What a pity, because next season the championship gets a face-lift. Run in tandem with the divisionals but separated from the league contest, players will be free to represent their counties, a move already receiving Harlequins' blessing. The club will not be arranging first-team fixtures on county Saturdays as their players say they would prefer to play in the championship if not selected by their division.

Freedom of expression, meanwhile, was Harrison's concern at Twickenham. 'I was commentating on last year's final and it was a pretty dour affair.' Yorkshire lost then 9-6 to Lancashire. 'But this time we said we've got to be positive, play traditional Yorkshire 15- man rugby. We did that and I think supporters had a feast of rugby.'

They did, too, with some 16,000 lending voice to the occasion. And Yorkshire's backs, who even with a 23-year-old scrum-half boasted an average age of 32, came off best. Bryan Barley, the captain, was delighted. A former international like Harrison, he was also about to call it a day for Yorkshire at 34. But not before claiming a final try which the lock Ian Carroll signalled was his. 'I know I don't usually score these days, but I just want to point out that the first try was mine,' Barley said with good humour. From first to last, Harrison and Barley have been great value and given great service.

Yorkshire: Tries Barley, Harrison; Conversions Plant 2; Penalties Plant 4. Durham: Penalty Parker.

YORKSHIRE: D Breakwell (Leeds); M Harrison (Wakefield), B Barley (Sandal, capt), S Burnhill (Cleckheaton), C Thornton (Leeds); K Plant (Rotherham), G Easterby (Harrogate); R Szabo (Wakefield), R Whyley (Harrogate), S McMain (Sheffield), I Carroll (Otley), C Raducanu (Bradford and Bingley), C West (Rotherham), C Vyvyan (Wharfedale), N Hargreaves (Leeds).

DURHAM: G Spearman (Blaydon); O Evans (West Hartlepool), I Bell (Hartlepool Rovers), P Nickalls (Rosslyn Park), C Mattison (Durham City); A Parker (West Hartlepool), S Kirkup (Durham City); G Naisbitt (Stockton, capt), I Parnaby (Westoe), M Douthwaite (Stockton), G Wanless (Durham City), C Aldus (Stockton), S Musgrove (Westoe), D McKinnon (West Hartlepool), B Dixon (Stockton). Replacements: K McCallum (Durham City) for Evans, 40; J Brown (Novocastrians) for Spearman, 75.

Referee: A Spreadbury (Bath).