Rugby Union: Warr effort not enough

By Stephen Evans at Twickenham
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The Independent Online
Gloucestershire 17 Warwickshire 13 Somewhere out there in the vast empty acres of Twickenham there was apparently a big match going on, but you wouldn't have thought it by the size of the crowd, if that's not too grand a word. No more than 7,750 spectators, many of them on freebie tickets, dotted the terracing for what the old guard of the Rugby Football Union maintains is an important event.

If the common punters were absent from the CIS County Championship final, the men in blazers were there in force. For them, it symbolised the old amateur ethos and all that's good about rugby football.

In fact, much that's good about rugby football was on display as Gloucestershire just about stopped Warwickshire retaining the trophy. The West Country side laid down a firm enough foundation in the first half with tries from the Gloucester flanker Andrew Stanley and Lydney's sparky scrum-half Julian Davis, both from short range. The Gloucester full-back Tim Smith converted both and added a penalty.

Warwickshire came back in the second half by keeping the ball tighter in the pack. Their scrum-half Mark Warr, from Sale, finally crossed after a string of tapped penalties. No matter how hard the Midlands side battered away thereafter, though, they never looked like being able to overhaul the deficit. Mathew Gallagher, the Nottingham outside-half, converted and added two penalties.

Gloucestershire remains one of those counties which still retains a pride in itself. There was no doubting the delight at a victory that equalled Lancashire's record of 16 county titles. It was particularly pleasing for Smith, who is retiring because he now finds it hard keeping up in training. The departure of the Tewkesbury scaffolder symbolises the passing of the old era.

But it all begged the question: what future is there for the County Championship? CIS is considering its sponsorship as its three-year deal comes to an end. The insurance company wants to know what the RFU's plans are, particularly concerning television. The draw has been made for next season, but there must be doubt about the profile it can maintain.

The irony is that yesterday's final actually produced some skilful, exciting rugby - the bald fact is that there were very few there to see it.

Gloucestershire: T Smith; J Perrins, D Edwards, L Osborne, D Morgan; R Mills, J Davis; R Phillips, N Nelmes, S Baldwin, T Clink, J Brain, A Knox, A Stanley (capt), I Patten.

Warwickshire: A Parton; J Minshull, M Curtis, M Palmer, D Watson; M Gallagher, M Warr; G Tregilgas (capt), R Burdett, T Revan, S Smith, P Bowman, M Ellis (A Ruddlesdin, 72), S Carter, M Fountaine.

Referee: B Campsall (Halifax).