Rugby Union: Richmond beggarmen curse the thieves

Richmond 19 Northampton 31

KEITH BARWELL walked into the directors' room at the Madejski Stadium and attempted to explain to Richmond why he was a party to pulling the plug on the world's third oldest club. The analogy he used was of Titanic proportions. "There are 28 professional clubs in England and there is not the structure to support them all. There are only so many rations in the lifeboat and the weak have to be pushed out so the majority can survive. That, basically, is the thinking behind the move."

"Charming," replied Tony Dorman, the Richmond president, and one of the men up to his neck in water without a life-jacket. Richmond's argument is not so much with Barwell, the multi-millionaire owner of Northampton, but with Tom Walkinshaw, the Formula One motor racing mogul, owner of Gloucester and chairman of English First Division Rugby, the clubs' umbrella organisation. This is Richmond's rainy day and this is some umbrella.

When Richmond, founded in 1861 (only Blackheath and Guy's Hospital beat them to the oval game) went into administration in March, they were viewed by the others not as a partner club but as shark bait.

With the English clubs' reintroduction to the European Cup next season, not to mention the staging of the World Cupin this country, the EFDR is agreed on one thing: the reduction of the number of clubs in the Premiership from 14 to 12.

Under EFDR regulations, any club in severe financial difficulty can be bought out. Exercising that right, EFDR have, it is understood, offered the administrators pounds 700,000 for Richmond, not to save the club but to kill it. If the offer is not accepted, EFDR have said they will exercise another option - to buy Richmond's registration for pounds 1. Richmond see it more as a pound of flesh with Walkinshaw and his supporters on the board of EFDR as the Merchants of Venice.

When Dorman attended a meeting of the cash-strapped clubs last week at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in Oxfordshire (one of the most expensive restaurants in the country) Walkinshaw told him: "I have a mandate to reduce the clubs in the Premiership to 12." Dorman: "What if this was happening to Gloucester?" Walkin- shaw: "It isn't happening to Gloucester."

Dorman suddenly got the impression he was at the last supper. There was only one consolation. Nigel Wray, the owner of Saracens, paid for the wine.

Yesterday Richmond des-cribed the EFDR's move as a "disgrace" and said that if necessary they would fight for their survival in the courts. Barwell told Dorman that the decision to buy Richmond was unanimous. "I know for a fact it isn't," Dorman said. "This is a technicality. Whether we are in or out of the Premiership should be decided on the playing field, not in a kangaroo court. If we were relegated or went into liquidation, fair enough, but that's not the case. We are in the business of reconstruction. We presented the administrators with a business plan, the players are being paid and we are fulfilling our fixtures. We have potential investors but this has undermined confidence and has set us back. The only categorical statement that can be made on our future is by the administrators, not the EFDR. They are in breech of the Mayfair agreement, under which there should be no change to the status quo for two years. We are not going to lie down and die.This is going to be a messy, messy battle. Richmond will be in the Premiership next season."

And they call it union. Before a crowd of 3,500 Richmond went down fighting to Northampton, for whom Barwell had given the coach, Ian McGeechan, an extra pounds 500,000 this season for one purpose, to win the Premiership. Only Leicester prevented them from doing so.

Northampton , who have the best away record in the League, were 28-0 ahead in almost as many minutes through two tries from Dominic Malone, Grant Seely, who went through a defence that had its mind on other things and John Phillips, all converted by Matt Dawson in his new guise of stand- off. And then Richmond began to play with passion, pride and not a little fury, Craig Quinnell getting sent to the sin bin for a high tackle. They manned the lifeboats with tries from Adam Vander and Quinnell to make it 12-28 at half time and to their credit out-scored the Saints in the second half, Vander getting his second try and his side's third. Richmond fight on.

Richmond: M Pini; N Walne, A Bateman, M Deane (J Wright, 56), L Best; E Va'a, A Moore; G Powell, B Williams (A Cuthbert, 57), D Crompton, C Quinnell, C Gillies, M Swift (A Sheridan, 66), B Clarke (capt), A Vander.

Northampton: N Beal; C Moir, A Northey (D Dantiacq, 71), M Allen, B Cohen; M Dawson, D Malone; G Pagel, C Johnson, M Stewart (M Volland, 74), J Phillips, T Rodber (capt, S Hepher, 28), P Lam, G Seely (C Allen, 8), B Pountney.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol)

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