Rugby Union: Grayson grabs chance with both feet

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Midlands. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9

North. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31

BEST, surely, just to turn up and get on with it and everyone obliged at Northampton. Dick Best, the England coach, did in spite of having to return home to London before catching a flight yesterday to catch up with the All Blacks. So, too, did Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, who by last Wednesday night could have been excused for thinking he had had quite enough of the Divisional Championship for one season.

And then there were the players, with no title at stake but making an honest contribution to what some regard a superfluous competition. Which just leaves London and the South-West to try and find a date for their showdown. Postponed indefinitely was the word from Twickenham, which is where the sponsors would eventually like the match to finish up. It could finish up never getting off the ground.

Meanwhile, who cares who comes third? Well, the North did on Saturday as they punished the Midlands for slack marking. Every time John Steele potted a penalty in the first half, back came the North with a try. 'We've got Third and Fourth Division players eager to test themselves against players who operate in higher leagues,' Mike Slemen, the North coach and Best's England assistant, said.

The South-West should take note instead of saying they could not raise a side because of England A and Under-21 commitments. 'I could have built on the dozen or so players from Bristol or Gloucester,' John Lockyer, the South-West's chairman of selectors, said in midweek. 'But would it be fair to ask them to go and represent the honour of the division when they had not played at that level?' The answer from many quarters would have been a resounding yes, with the players from Bristol and Gloucester quite likely first in the queue.

As it is, the divisional decider has become a headache in a crowded season and if it does not end up on the scrapheap, will it actually serve any purpose if, say, it is played in April, which is one of the suggestions? And heaven help English rugby if the weather turns nasty this winter.

As for the moment, Best was impressed by another fine kicking performance from Paul Grayson. Against the All Blacks at Anfield last Tuesday, the football convert had landed 21 points and here the country's leading scorer sailed past the 150-mark with two conversions, three penalties and a left-footed drop goal. 'He certainly has a hell of a boot on him,' Best said. Two of them, actually. 'And given a season or two he could be right up there.'

Up there, or rather Gala, is not, though, where Ed Morrison, England's top referee, will be on Wednesday. Due to handle the All Blacks against South of Scotland, Morrison damaged ankle ligaments late in the afternoon and was carried away from the pitch. Apart from the pain of the strain, Morrison had to leave his car at Franklin's Gardens and catch a cab back to Bristol. 'I don't have much luck here,' he said. 'Two years ago in a league match I had a rib broken when a player ran into me.' The North were just happy to break their duck.

Midlands: Penalties Steele 3. North: Tries Ashurst, Sleightholme, Simms; Conversions Grayson 2; Penalties Grayson 3; Drop goal Grayson.

MIDLANDS: J Steele (Northampton); S Hackney (Leicester), S Purdy (Moseley), F Packman, H Thorneycroft (Northampton); J Harris, A Kardooni (Leicester); G Baldwin (Northampton), R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (Leicester), S Lloyd (Moseley), J Wells, D Richards (Leicester capt), C Millhouse (Northampton). Replacements: A Kerr (Moseley) for Thorneycroft, 12-17; I Skingsley (Bedford) for Lloyd, 68.

NORTH: M Jackson; J Sleightholme (Wakefield), J Fletcher (Northampton), K Simms (Liverpool St Helen's, capt), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson (Northampton), D Scully (Wakefield); P Lancaster, S Mitchell (W Hartlepool), S McMain (Sheffield), J Dixon (W Hartlepool), C Cusani (Orrell), C Vyvyan (Wharfedale), A MacFarland (Sale), N Ashurst (Orrell).

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol) replaced by P Wakefield (Moreton), 78.

(Photograph omitted)