Acquaintance is renewed at the bottom

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The Independent Online

Whirlwind courtships often end in messy divorce. So it was with Richmond, London Scottish and professional rugby. They leapt into bed quickly enough but after a brief honeymoon they were up before the beak quicker than you can say Madejski Stadium.

Whirlwind courtships often end in messy divorce. So it was with Richmond, London Scottish and professional rugby. They leapt into bed quickly enough but after a brief honeymoon they were up before the beak quicker than you can say Madejski Stadium.

Neutral observers might cite Ashley Levett and Tony Tiarks, the respective moneybags behind the clubs' painful dalliance with the full-time circus, as prime suspects in the case. But there were other co-respondents, not least the First Division clubs who voted Scottish and Richmond out in the summer of 1999, indecent in their haste to reduce the top flight's number to 12.

And let's not forget the clubs' own members who took the Tiarks and Levett shillings, keen to play a prominent part in the open game. Richmond went on a rollercoaster ride of expensive recruitment, led by Ben Clarke, a move to Reading and eviction from the élite as the numbers failed to add up quickly enough. Scottish found their own route, via a ground-share at Harlequins, to the same destination.

Yesterday the long-time co-tenants of the Athletic Ground resurfaced there, side by side at level nine of the English league structure, after a year of friendlies and regrouping. You would have scanned the skies in vain to spot Levett jetting in from Monaco, as used to be his wont. Instead, thick on the ground were several hundred assorted players, wives, friends and alickadoos. The biggest crowd in Herts/Middlesex Division One this weekend, it would be safe to say.

Richmond's members have raised more than £1m to retain the club's 49 per cent stake in the Richmond Athletic Association which leases the ground from the Crown, and ensure continued membership of the Rugby Football Union which, as it happens, they helped found in 1871. Scottish's share of the RAA is in the hands of the receivers, with its fate yet to be resolved. It would take eight promotions on the trot to rejoin Leicester and the rest. The next but one Olympics will have come and gone by then.

The outraged of Feltham are among those who are unhappy at the prospect of heavy beatings from two teams loaded with players suited to a higher standard. "The RFU said they would find us an appropriate level," said Kevan Bell, Richmond's director of rugby. "There was always someone who would be upset, and that includes us."

Clarke was on the telephone yesterday morning to wish Bell and his team luck. Iain Laughland, the president of the Scottish Rugby Union and London Scottish captain some 40 years ago, joined 150 guests who lunched well in a pitchside marquee. Some of them even emerged in time for the first try, by David Calvert for Scottish, midway through the first half. Dave Barber scored a try and kicked two penalties from full-back in reply, but Alan Stewart's try and a penalty by Steve Wichary ensured Scottish arms were aloft at the end.

The prevailing mood was of delight at getting back to what comes naturally, catering for around 750 men's, women's, and mini rugby players every weekend. "The resurrection of proper rugby," proclaimed the fellow on the public address, accompanied not by thumping disco beats but a swirl of the bagpipes. It was tough to disagree.

London Scottish: M Fraser; D Calvert, S MacLean, M Ivory, M Renouf; S Wichary, A Dart; B Monks, A Stewart, C Johnston, C Courtenay, R Moore, S Christie, D Lilley (capt), C McCarthy.

Richmond: D Barber; B Leigh, D Barber, W Taylor, C Whiteley, A Warne; S Flynn, P Young; C Hannon, A Cuthbert (capt), R Alheusen, H Head, T Price, C Palmer, J Evans, R Evans.

Referee: S Hardcastle (London).

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