Midlands . . . . . . . . .16
THE man on the Tannoy knew a thing or two about the ADT Divisional Championship. 'The bar,' he announced, 'will close 10 minutes before the kick-off and reopen 10 minutes after half-time.' Ten minutes after the kick-off would not have been too soon. In a first half of high farce, low entertainment and nil value to England's selectors, both sides did more damage to their team-mates than they did to the opposition. Skinner hit his captain, Andrew, with a belter of a tackle and Hackney hit Liley amidships. In between, passes went astray and kicks were off target amidst general bewilderment.
The Midlands' confusion began at the line-out, where the Martins, Bayfield and Johnson, who many see as a future partnership in the England second row, were incapable of winning the ball against the London locks, both of whom are more accustomed to playing in the back row.
Believing that they would have to survive on a frugal supply of line-out possession, London's game plan had been to keep the ball away from the touch-lines as much as possible, but, in the event, they had the freedom to do as they pleased. One of their three tries, a minute after the start of the second half, came directly from the line-out, the ball having been won at the tail and London's threequarters running smoothly for Darren O'Leary to score.
Even when Midlands had the ball, they lacked direction and authority at half-back, although the appearance of Matthew Dawson as the replacement for Aadel Kardooni at scrum-half did coincide with an upturn of sorts in their fortunes. At least they did not leak scores with quite the same regularity.
Rob Andrew, denied the weekly experience of competitive club rugby until the New Year, was nevertheless a forceful presence for London. He kicked three penalties, the conversion of Dean Ryan's try following a scrummage a yard from Midlands' line, and then scored the most dramatic try of the game which, typically, followed a succession of mishaps and misadventure. First, Alan Buzza kicked straight to Liley's hands. Liley then ran infield and passed to Frank Packman, whose wild pass, intended for the wing, was intercepted 50 yards out by Andrew.
London's teamwork was vastly superior and by the end of the game they were showing signs of a side confident and comfortable in each other's company. The Midlands, conversely, were a ragged group of individuals among whom Back, Dawson, Thorneycroft and, despite his faux pas, Packman emerged with reputations relatively untarnished. They were never in touch from start to finish - Liley kicked one penalty in the first half and converted Johnson's try, scored direct from one of a few successful Midlands line-outs, three minutes from the interval. Later, as Midlands staged a belated rally, he kicked two more penalties. But what will the selectors make of Bayfield? Here was a heaven-sent opportunity for the player around whom England hope to build their line-out for the Five Nations' Championship to show what he could do. His failure to dominate will be of little comfort to the selectors.
LONDON: A Buzza; S Pilgrim (both Wasps), M Evans (Harlequins), J Buckton (Saracens), D O'Leary (Saracens); R Andrew (Wasps, capt), S Bates (Wasps); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), M Russell (Harlequins), R Langhorn (Harlequins), M Skinner (Blackheath), D Ryan (Wasps), J Cassell (Saracens).
MIDLANDS: J Liley; S Hackney, S Potter (all Leicester), F Packman, H Thorneycroft; J Steele (all Northampton), A Kardooni (Leicester); M Linnett (Moseley), J Olver (Northampton), D Garforth (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), P Shillingford (Moseley), D Richards (Leicester, capt), N Back (Leicester). Replacement: M Dawson (Northampton) for Kardooni, 25 min.
Referee: S Piercey (Yorkshire).
Scores: Andrew (pen, 16 min, 3-0); Liley (pen, 10 min, 3-3); Ryan/Andrew (try/conv, 20 min, 10-3); Andrew (pen, 29 min, 13-3); Andrew (try, 30 min, 18-3); Johnson/Liley (try/conv, 37 min, 18- 10); O'Leary (try, 41 min, 23-10); Liley (pen, 53 min, 23-13); Liley (pen, 61 min, 23-16); Andrew (pen, 66 min, 26-16).
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