Football: No stitch-up please.
Having spent the weekend watching Worcester flop around the bottom of the Premiership like a weak swimmer in a straitjacket and Plymouth Albion batter Moseley on their way - temporarily at least - to the top of National One, I have only one thing to ask from this season. Make it count.
Few things irk me more than a stitch-up and like many rugby followers I am growing increasingly concerned that the current campaign will not do what it says on the tin and that the route between the top two divisions is growing ever more difficult to negotiate. Something to do with bandits I'm told.
For once the First Division promotion race is shaping up to be just that - a race between evenly-matched competitors, any one of whom could win - and not the worthless processions that Harlequins, Worcester and to an extent Bristol have overseen in recent years.
This time there are five clubs in with a genuine shout of ending the season as champions and, having seen four of them, it's difficult to say which is the more likely victor.
Plymouth were perhaps the most complete team I have witnessed so far with power up front and a silky set of threequarters. They were certainly far too strong for Moseley on Saturday.
But Cornish Pirates are pretty impressive too. Their pack is better than functional and their back three are rugby players in greased whippet form.
Rotherham have the most dominant set of forwards the division has seen since John Brain took Worcester up in 2004 and although I haven't watched Doncaster there are those in Yorkshire who rate them as the most likely of the county's three hopefuls.
For all intents and purposes Leeds are a Premiership club off the pitch with some class youngsters and considerable top-flight know-how on it. Take your pick.
But Leeds are also the only one in the league with suitable facilities to earn automatic access to the Rugby Football Union's millions yet their elevation is far from certain. They have lost to London Welsh and Bedford and have to visit each of their challengers. Their final-day showdown at Plymouth might be for the ultimate prize.
That is if the Devonians are still in contention. They might be 50 points clear but although they claim to have things in place to go up there is little tangible evidence. I understand they have submitted their paperwork to the RFU to apply for promotion but their stadium must be ready by March. That's going to take some doing.
Last week Dickie Evans effectively ruled out his Pirates when he called on the RFU to allow them five years to find and develop a ground. Rotherham appear to be still tangled in the red tape that has stymied them in the past. So, put bluntly, Worcester could 'do a Rotherham' and finish bottom without a win but there is every chance they will be granted a stay of execution.
Which is fine, they have the set-up, resources, fan base and committed owner to make them a long-term success in the Premiership but not at the expense of the rightful champions of National One.
If there's a club out there feeling a little hard done by on the injury front spare a thought for Sale Sharks.
I'm not one to feel sorry for Premiership fat cats but any side that - in a week - loses Charlie Hodgson, Andrew Sheridan and Jason White for the rest of the season can consider its day at the office a bad one.
Poor Hodgson has been mercilessly harangued in the last month or so. Recently he has produced some indifferent performances for England but the criticism he has received from areas of the national press has been unseemly.
Perhaps we face the prospect of seeing the team orchestrated by Andy Goode. Olly Barkley or Toby Flood are promising but too raw so the experts should admit that Hodgson is the finest outside half in the British Isles bar none.
Perhaps the critics should wonder why a player that is such a creative force for his club becomes so prosaic in a white shirt. Something to do with the speed of possession and the backs outside him I would think.
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Nov 22, 2006|
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