Rugby Union: Underwoodgoes into overdrive

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The Independent Online
North . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

London. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

AS A public relations exercise in bringing the game to the remoter outposts this might have been a success, except that the canny Geordies, who know a con, and who have consistently put club, county and even pram-pushing before this competition, were not all that interested. Fewer than 2,000 turned up to watch this CIS Divisional Championship match.

As confirmation that the tournament fills the gap between club and international rugby and, as meaningful preparation for London's game against the All Blacks next Saturday, it was an abject failure. What can be said with absolute certainty is that if London play against the All Blacks as they did yesterday against the North they will be slaughtered. So loose, artless and witless were they that, having apparently won the match in the first quarter of an hour with two flashing tries, they allowed a North side mostly comprising players from the lower leagues, to draw level within two minutes of the start of the second half and then, 15 minutes later, to take the lead after Tim Rodber's break had opened the way for a try by Mike Fielden.

A penalty by Rob Andrew, his first, having badly misfired three times previously, followed by a Damien Hopley try six minutes from time, spared the blushes of the nine full caps in the London side.

Nothing, however, could conceal the ineptness of much of theplay, from which few in the London side can escape criticism. Tony Underwood, the scorer of London's first try, who foraged enthusiastically but mostly in vain from first to last, was one and Huw Davies, who began like a colt but finished looking his age, was another. London's line-out operated fitfully as did their scrummage, while the back row just did not operate at all.

The North, for their resilience and determination, deserve the highest praise. Their ability to salvage something from the wreckage of their scrummage in the first half will surely have ended for good Jeffrey Probyn's faint hopes of an international recall.

Behind an increasingly competent and confident tight five, Rodber, the most aggressively committed of the loose forwards on the field, may have advanced his cause either on the blind side, where he played yesterday, or else on the open. His upright stance, however, is not naturally suited to the open-side flank where speed to the ground is almost as vital as speed to the breakdown.

To add to their problems London were tactically naive. Paul Grayson made much better use of the wind in the second half than Andrew had in the first. London's slavish desire to decorate their moves may well have been prompted by their initial success when Underwood appeared on the opposite wing to score the first try and set up the second for Carling.

The North, at this stage in shambolic retreat, were as good as beaten but it was then that London's tactics and techniques deserted them. Grayson kicked a penalty followed by two drop goals and the North turned round a mere four points behind.

It was only after the North's second-half assault which brought tries for Jim Mallinder and Fielden that London grasped the gravity of the situation. But if the result was right for them, little else was.

NORTH: I Hunter (Northampton); J Mallinder (Sale), M Fielden (Northampton), K Simms (Liverpool St Helens, capt), J Sleightholme (Wakefield); P Grayson (Northampton), D Scully (Wakefield); M Hynes (Orrell), G French (Orrell), S McMain (Sheffield), D Baldwin (Sale), J Dixon (West Hartlepool), T Rodber (Northampton), A Macfarlane (Sale), N Ashurst (Orrell).

LONDON: H Davies (Wasps); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), D Hopley (Wasps), D O'Leary (Harlequins); R Andrew (capt), S Bates (both Wasps); J Leonard, B Moore (both Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), A Snow, R Langhorn (both Harlequins), M Greenwood, D Ryan, L Dallaglio (all Wasps).

Referee: E Murray (Scotland).

Scores: Underwood / Andrew (try / con, 7 min, 0-7); Carling / Andrew (try / con, 16 min, 0-14); Grayson (pen, 18 min, 3-14); Grayson (drop-goal, 21 min, 6-14); Grayson (drop goal, 32 min, 9-14); Mallender (try, 42 min, 14-14); Fielden / Grayson (try / con, 57 min, 21-14); Andrew (pen, 66 min, 21-17); Hopley (try, 74 min, 21-22)