Wooden London

London 11 South-West 26
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The Independent Online
THIS being a supposedly showpiece event in the rugby union calendar, it was played at probably the remotest first-class metropolitan ground - London Irish's little grey home in the west at Sunbury - before a crowd which went well into three figures. And though the game had a certain brisk liveliness, on general levels of skill and organisation that was just about what it was worth. In the course of it the South-West bestowed the wooden spoon of the divisional championship on London and would not take no for an answer.

The rungs of the promotional ladder used to be clearly marked Club, County, Division, Country. Now they have been reduced to Club, Squad, Country, and the divisional championship has lost its point. To survive, the divisions need new opponents. Paul Hull, the revelation of England's South African tour in 1994, played crucially well here. But how can the selectors learn more from watching him perform against a scratch London side than against far sterner teams from Leicester or Bath?

Considering how much fancy-free running there was earlier on from the South-West, the surprise was it produced only tit-for-tat penalties by Alex King and London's Guy Gregory in the first half hour. King, a stand- off from Bristol University, but already capped by England A, has a great natural talent. He is a shadowy runner, persistently trying to prise open gaps, and was unlucky not to do so early on.

The best of the other close calls were engineered by Hull himself - in particular the running catch of a high ball which carried him through London's defensive wall. London had the same policy of running the ball whenever they had the opportunity, and often when they did not. At last something was accomplished in the 38th minute when Hull used his winger's speed to score in the corner.

Nine minutes later came an even more satisfying try as King gave impetus to a move set up by Archer and Enoch, and completed by Richard Hill, again in the corner. Between the tries Gregory had kicked a second penalty to keep South-West's lead down to 13-6 at the break. But King missed both conversions and when South-West kicked their next penalties - two in quick succession midway through the second half - they came from the boot of Hull.

London were by now pretty well run ragged, allowing Hill through for a second try, but managing to keep their wits about them to snap up a chance on the South-West goal line and make a try for Gareth Allison.

London and South-East Division: J Ufton (Wasps); D O'Leary (Harlequins), N Greenstock, L Scrase, S Roiser; G Gregory, A Gomarsall (all Wasps); S Brown, S Mitchell (both Harlequins), G Holmes (Saracens), M Watson (Harlequins), M Langley (Saracens), G Allison (Harlequins), M White (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens, capt). Replacements: S Ravenscroft (Saracens) for Greenstock, 45; C Braithwaite (Wasps) for Roiser, 78.

South-West Division: P Hull (Bristol, capt); N Beal (Northampton), S Enoch (Pontypridd), F Waters (Bristol University), P Halford (Gloucester); A King (Bristol University), B Fenley; T Windo, P Greening (all Gloucester), D Crompton (Bath), G Archer (Bristol), C Yandall (Saracens), P Glanville (Gloucester), R Hill (Saracens), E Rollitt (Bristol). Replacement: R Fidler (Gloucester) for Glanville, 74.

Referee: I Ramage (SRU).