RUGBY UNION: Richmond are losing their Titanic battle

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The Independent Online
THE HIRED hands have jumped ship - or, in the case of some, been forced to walk the plank - and the captain stands in less than splendid isolation on what remains of the bridge. Richmond, among the oldest and, latterly, the most ambitious of English clubs, have collided with the iceberg of professionalism with such a thump that not even the most optimistic crew member now believes that they can cling onto their Premiership status. In less than a fortnight, they will be on the seabed.

John Kingston, the club coach who fought so tirelessly and with such dignity to salvage some sort of future following Richmond's descent into financial administration, has called it day. He was invited to resign at a meeting on Wednesday and accepted, thereby severing all links with a club to which he had given everything and a bit more. Another batch of players left with him, leaving a tiny rump of survivors - Ben Clarke, Agustin Pichot and Adam Vander among them.

Vander, on England duty in Paris this weekend with the national Sevens squad, may well rejoin Bath; the West Countrymen have been searching for a top-notch open side since Andy Robinson swapped the pitch for the dug- out more than two seasons ago and they have been impressed by Vander's rapid development under Kingston. Pichot, meanwhile, is in talks with Harlequins, although the Argentinian Test scrum-half is so disenchanted by the boardroom assaults on Richmond by the other Premiership clubs that he is not entirely sure he wants to stay in English rugby.

And Clarke? Still among the three best blind-side flankers in England regardless of Clive Woodward's decision to fly to Australia without him, he can expect phone calls from a long list of First Division clubs over the next few days. His heart remains with Richmond - he was central to the plot when Ashley Levett originally bought into the club and more upset than anyone when Levett pulled the plug in mid-campaign - but he still has three good years left in him and will certainly play Premiership rugby next season.

Officially, Richmond have until the end of next week to negotiate their way out of the financial black hole that opened up beneath them earlier this month, when English First Division Rugby, the Premiership clubs' umbrella organisation, made their initial threat to buy them out and close them down. In practical terms, however, they look dead and buried. "We could merge with London Scottish, but we would also need a business plan," said one senior player yesterday. "For a business plan you need money, and the money isn't there. It's dried up. EFDR will get their 12-team league for next season."

One of the many Richmond refugees, Allan Bateman, returns to the Welsh midfield tomorrow for the opening match of his country's tour of Argentina. Bateman, who joined Northampton last week, will face Buenos Aires, the powerful provincial champions, in an effort to reclaim the Test place he lost to Swansea's Mark Taylor during the Five Nations. Nine of the team that beat England in the final Five Nations game get an outing.

WALES (v Buenos Aires, Saturday): S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), A Bateman (Northampton), L Davies (Cardiff), D James (Pontypridd); A Thomas (Swansea), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins, C Anthony (Swansea), M Voyle, C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), G Lewis (Pontypridd), B Sinkinson (Neath). Replacements: D Morris (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff), G Llewellyn (Harlequins), I Boobyer (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), B Hayward (Llanelli), N Walne (Cardiff).