Rugby Union: Holders granted their just deserts

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The Independent Online
Lancashire. . 17

Middlesex. . .11

AS Lancashire have given such unqualified support to the County Championship, it would have been ungracious, if not downright rude, were they to have been denied a ticket for the closing ceremony at Twickenham on 17 April.

For when the last post is sounded, to signal the end of what has become an outdated and increasingly irrelevant competition, no other county can claim to have embraced the original spirit of the tournament so wholeheartedly.

Despite the Championship's declining purpose in recent years, Lancashire have always taken their participation seriously; even though last season they were able to lift their 15th title by fielding a second-choice team.

By narrowly beating Middlesex at Edge Hall Road, Lancashire qualified for their 22nd final; and should they defeat their tribal adversaries Yorkshire, Lancashire will move ahead of Gloucestershire with most wins in the competition's 104-year history.

Meeting Yorkshire in what will be the 100th Roses' championship match, and the first final involving the Pennine counties, will hopefully generate greater incentive and produce more constructive rugby than was on offer in this disjointed, albeit keenly contested, semi-final.

Had Middlesex been able to execute their game plan, Lancashire's celebrations would have ended at source. The visitors' idea was to play into a stiff end-to-end breeze in the first half and restrict the title-holders to one or two scores. After the interval, Middlesex expected to pin Lancashire on the defensive and profit from their mistakes.

Instead, almost the reverse happened. Lancashire pulled out a

17-5 lead before changing ends and thereafter the London county were never able to capitalise.

Gerry Ainscough rediscovered his kicking form in the nick of time and converted four out of five penalty chances. Paul Challinor got two from three for Middlesex and with a try apiece by Chris Tarbuck and Paul Hamer, that was effectively that.

A couple of dramatic surges by the Lancashire pack in the last quarter momentarily brought to mind the great days of the Championship but, in truth, they are gone forever.

Lancashire: Try Hamer; Penalties Ainscough 4. Middlesex: Try Tarbuck; Penalties Challinor 2.

LANCASHIRE: S Taberner (Orrell); S Bromley (Rugby), G Ainscough (Orrell), S Langford (Orrell), P Hamer (Orrell); A Handley (Waterloo), C Saverimutto (Waterloo); J Russell (Broughton Park), G French (Liverpool St Helens), D Southern (Orrell, capt), R Kimmins (Orrell), N Allott (Waterloo), S Gallagher (Orrell), N Ashurst (Orrell), M Kenrick (Sale).

MIDDLESEX: K Bray (Harlequins); M Wedderburn (Harlequins), A Lee (Saracens), R Lozowski (Wasps), M Hutton (Richmond); P Challinor (Harlequins), C Luxton (Richmond); M Hobley (Harlequins, capt), G Botterman (Saracens), S Wilson (Saracens), L Adamson (Saracens), J Fowler (Rosslyn Park), C Tarbuck (Saracens), A Fox (Harlequins), C Sheasby (Harlequins).

Referee: A Spreadbury (Somerset).

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