Rugby Union: Hard words as Clarke is hurt

Richmond 35 Cardiff 28
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The Independent Online
IN AN unhappy postscript to a thoroughly competitive Anglo-Welsh friendly which belied its billing, the Richmond captain Ben Clarke was taken to hospital with a suspected fractured cheekbone. Clarke's injury, which occurred in a clash with Cardiff's Wales hooker Jon Humphries during the second half, was evidence of the no-holds-barred attitude adopted by both teams.

It was Cardiff's tactics during the last 20 minutes, when they attempted in vain to overhaul Richmond's lead, which drew the ire of Richmond's director of rugby, John Kingston. "What went on in that time was unacceptable," said Kingston, who laid much of the blame at the feet of the referee Peter Bolland. The contract signed by Kingston and his fellow Allied Dunbar Premiership coaches forbidding them to speak out against match officials did not prevent him sounding off in no uncertain terms about Bolland, a member of the eight-man panel of "rebel" referees to take charge of the Anglo-Welsh matches this season.

"Inept" and "inefficient" were two of the choicer words used by Kingston and, indeed, the use of referees who can, at best, be described as second grade for such high-intensity clashes has been an accident waiting to happen this season. In mitigation, both Cardiff and their fellow dissidents Swansea have pleaded with the Unions in England and Wales to appoint their own referees. Also, it should be said, these teams went into this full- blooded encounter knowing that they had to play to the referee, rather than the other way round.

The reappearance after three-and-a-half weeks out through injury of the rugby league wing Anthony Sullivan was something of a mirage in the first half. Poor Sullivan endured the classic lot of the under-used wide man as he shivered in the wide open spaces while his team mates dithered inside him.

Sullivan, in this his fifth union outing, had precisely one touch of the ball before the interval and even that was a pass of the hospital variety, if Clarke will pardon that term. Most of the action, inevitably, centred around the two belligerent packs in which Humphreys was up against his rival for the Wales hooking spot, Barrie Williams, and all manner of dark deeds took place in the front rows. Several stand-up fights broke out and the one accusation which could fairly be levelled at Mr Bolland was his shyness at producing a white card. He made no use of the sin bin.

Richmond scored four tries to Cardiff's three and deserved their win - the Welsh club's third reverse on the trot, but with European Cup quarter finals and Allied Dunbar Premiership action going on elsewhere it was hard not to feel you were missing the party.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, J Wright, M Dixon, D Chapman; E Va'a, A Moore (capt)(A Pichot, 52); D McFarland, B Williams (A Cuthbert, 45-55, 62), J Davies (G Powell 70), B Cusack, C Gillies, R Hutton (B Clarke, 34-40, 52, replaced by A Codling 64), A Vander, L Cabannes.

Cardiff: J Thomas (L Botham 21); S Hill, L Davies, M Wintle, A Sullivan; P Burke (L Jarvis 68), R Jones (capt)(S Wake 48); S John, J Humphreys, L Mustoe, D Jones, S Williams (K Stewart 32), O Williams, D Baugh, G Kacala.

Referee: P Bolland (Newport).