Rugby Union: Wright softens Richmond's national loss

Richmond 32 London Irish 12
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The Independent Online

Richmond 32 London Irish 12

Richmond's hopes of maintaining their winning start to life in the Allied Dunbar Premiership have hit an immediate snag. It is all very well running in five tries against an injury-hit London Irish team, but it is quite another matter travelling to Watford next Sunday to tackle Saracens.

They will need a full-strength side. Unfortunately two of their key players, the Lions pair of Allan Bateman and Barry Williams, have become embroiled in a club v country row. Although they will play for Wales against Romania on Saturday, it would be stretching it, and their fitness and stamina levels so early in the season, to expect them to be able to turn out 24 hours later for an intensely demanding League match.

Richmond are at pains to stress that they have at no time attempted to coerce the players to put club before country, but John Kingston, their shrewd director of rugby, said of the dilemma: "I'm horrified the players have been put in this position. I cannot believe that the International Rugby Football Board can allow us to get into this mess. There should never be a club v country debate. The game is professional now. Weekends should be set aside for internationals across the board. How many more times is this going to happen? It's unprofessional."

While Kingston said there would never be any problem as regards the Five Nations, he did suggest that perhaps that could be played, to the exclusion of all other matches, in a four or five-week period, rather like the Football Association used to organise the Home International Championship.

As far as Richmond's campaign goes, at best, and providing both players emerge uninjured from their international adventure, Kingston would probably end up naming them on the bench for the Saracens clash, but it is hard on the newly promoted club.

At least a suitable replacement for the hugely talented Bateman emerged on Saturday. Jason Wright's usual position is at outside centre for Otago in the southern hemisphere's Super 12. Against hapless London Irish, the powerful but pacy Wright was placed on the right wing.

But at times the 6ft 2in, 15st-plus New Zealander could have been a flanker. He popped up everywhere, usually in places where before there had been no gap, which was testimony to his vision. He had an almost uncanny understanding with Richmond's other Southern Hemisphere signing, Matt Pini, at full- back, who had set up Wright for the first of his two well-taken tries.

Effectively there were three overseas players in Richmond's line-up, Rolando Martin, the brilliant Argentinian back row forward completing the trio, but Wright possesses a British passport, thanks to his father Mike, who emigrated with his family from Leeds when 15 years old.

That could open up doors to Wright. Doors through which he would happily walk. "I've done what I can over in New Zealand but it is hard to break in over there because there are so many top players, so I've come over here to broaden my experience. And if I got a chance to play for England I would definitely take it." His formidable finishing certainly got Richmond off to a good start: more of the same and he could be launching himself on an England Test career.

Richmond: Tries S Quinnell, J Wright 2, A Vander 2; Conversions A Davies 2; Penalty A Davies. London Irish: Penalties Woods 4.

Richmond: M Pini; J Wright, A Bateman, M Hutton, D Chapman (B Harvey, 40); A Davies, A Moore; D McFarland, B Williams, D Crompton (J Davies, 52), C Quinnell, R West, R Martin, B Clarke (capt), S Quinnell (A Vander, 57).

London Irish: C O'Shea (capt); J Bishop, N Burrows, M McCall, N Woods (R Hennessy, 78); S Burns, N Hogan (P Richards, 75); J Fitzpatrick, R Kellam, G Halpin, M O'Kelly, J Davidson, K O'Connell, C Bird, R Yeabsley.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).