RICHMOND duly recorded their fifth successive victory in the Premiership and have an eye, not only on Europe, but the more prosaic setting of Reading in Berkshire. Having beaten their heads against a brick wall, a wall probably designated a listed building, Richmond, founded in 1861, almost certainly played their last game at the Athletic Ground yesterday. There was barely a dry throat in the house.
Next season Richmond will strut their stuff at the Madejski Stadium off junction 11 of the M4. Named after the founder of Auto Trader, the stadium, which is under construction and will have a capacity of 25,000, will be shared with Reading Football Club. The Athletic Ground, one of the best appointed sites in the capital, has a crowd limit of 5,740 with a covered stand for only 600. Commercially it is a non-starter.
Richmond, who lost pounds 1.8m last season, have received earache from the Noise Abatement Society and almost every other pressure group under the sun. Each initiative to develop the ground has been frustrated and in their uncovered stand they were even asked to replace the red seats with green as they were considered an eyesore. The stand comes down next week and thus Richmond, the only senior club in London whose name is eponymous with its habitat, will follow Saracens and Wasps in sharing facilities with a soccer club. Corinthians it ain't.
Yesterday Wasps sacrificed league points, saving their creme de la creme for the cup final against Saracens at Twickenham this Saturday. Last season's champions, Wasps finally came to life in the past month, winning three games in eight days.
Richmond have also had a second wind and a hot streak has given them an outside chance of a top-four finish in the Premiership and a place in the European Cup, if English clubs compete in the competition next season.
Considering that Wasps fielded a second row that was almost mature enough to have witnessed the first match on this ground, they made a decent fist of it. London pride and all that. Of the Wasps who can expect to play at Twickenham next weekend, there was a scare for Paul Sampson who went off in the first half for stitches to a head wound but returned in the second.
A crowd of 4,500 saw Richmond score eight tries to four, the first coming from Scott Quinnell after 51 seconds. Although the match had an end-of- term feel to it, it was taken sufficiently seriously to justify win bonuses and also for Matt Pini to be dispatched to the sin-bin for 10 minutes for persistent offside. During the full-back's absence, Richmond actually increased their advantage, scoring 12 points.
Apart from making their customary substitution of Damian Cronin on the hour, Wasps also saved their extraordinary hooker Trevor Leota from further punishment before the end. Although Leota is not the first-choice hooker, his all-round skills have made him a cult figure with Wasps and it will be a surprise if he does not appear at some stage in the Cup Final.
The last hurrah at the Athletic Ground went to the stand-off Adrian Davies who scored the final try which took Richmond past the half-century and his own total to 21 points.
But the last word went to Tony Hallett, the Richmond chief executive. "This may have been the most cluttered, most criticised season ever conceived in modern times," he said. "It's also the most absorbing and action-packed." Hallett, a former secretary of the RFU, added: "Humbug to those strange, apparently all-knowing, omnipotent people at Twickenham Towers. They should own up to the true value of club rugby, its development and its vital contribution to the international game."
Richmond: M Pini; S Brown, A Bateman, J Wright (E Va'a, 51), D Chapman; A Davies, A Pichot; D McFarland (J Davies, 72), B Williams, D Crompton, P Carr, C Gillies, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell, A Vander.
Wasps: J Ufton; P Sampson, R Henderson, N Greenstock, S Roiser; G Rees (capt), A Gomarsall; A Black, T Leota (D Alexopoulos, 67), I Dunston, A Reed, D Cronin (S Shaw, 60), M White, P Scrivener, J Worsley.
Referee: B Campsall (Yorkshire).