Crewe Vs Lancaster 17th July 2004
CREWE 44 LANCASTER 12 Totalrl.com Summer Conference
RICHARD DE LA RIVIERE
The battle for fifth place in the North West division of the Rugby League Conference was won by Crewe against Lancaster on saturday afternoon as the weekly rounds of the competition ended in disappointing fashion. Lancaster, again hit by injuries, never looked like picking up where they left off after they had swept aside North Wales the week before and were roundly beaten by a similar scoreline.
The in form Russell Birkett was moved to hooker to replace the injured Greg Sykes but the move ultimately stifled Birkett's running game that has, so far, been the foundation of Lancaster's season. Phil Casson was another who was asked to play out of position, at loose forward, as was Mark Squires who replaced Casson in the centre.
It was Squires who provided the best moment of the first half as he anticipated Keith Hartlebury's last tackle grubber kick superbly to gather and score by the posts. This was in response to Michael Bates's opening try for Crewe and tied the scores at 6-6. Squires is now level with Andy Garnett in their race to top the try scoring charts. The forthcoming play offs matches should decide the winner.
Squires almost added another as he went for a trademark interception but unfortunately he knocked on. Three penalty goals followed; two of them to Crewe as the score moved out to 10-8. One of the Crewe penalties followed the sin binning of Liam Hall, for a second high tackle, who was dispatched for ten minutes for the third time in eight appearances this season. Lancaster defended gamely in the period that they had a man disadvantage but, ironically, when he returned Crewe hooker Timothy Stuart scored under the posts. The successful conversion gave Crewe a 16-8 half time lead.
At half time Lancaster introduced Ireland international Darren Clark for his first appearance of the season as he replaced Casson in the forwards. Clark broke his leg representing his country against the USA in March and his experience and leadership have been sorely missed.
Any chance of a comeback would need Lancaster to come up with a near perfect forty minutes of rugby league. However what followed was one of the worst halves in their two year history. Crewe notched up five tries as they opened up Lancaster time after time. Bates added another and was joined by Mark Martin, Danny Hoyland, Richard Smith and man of the match Stephen Foster on the scoreboard. Although they had under performed, second half injuries to Rob Shaw and the returning Randall Raines did nothing to help the cause.
For Lancaster, Liam Hall scored for the second consecutive weekend near the end of the game. Hall had been spelled by coach Kevin McGuffog but returned determined to make an impression and carried three defenders over the line on a superb twenty metre run to the line.
Also impressive for side was relative newcomer Matthew Walton. Following his spectacular length of the field try against North Wales, Walton was a constant thorn in the side of Crewe with his jinking, side stepping runs.
Next week Lancaster must make the same journey in the first round of the play offs to decide who enters the Shield competition. They will be without Shaw and Raines after their injuries and Clark and Walton who are away on holiday but they will welcome back Matthew Craven and Greg Sykes, both impressive performers this season who were sorely missed on saturday. Lancaster have a habit of producing a good performance after a poor one and this trend will have to continue if they are to make amends in the play offs.
WALKABOUT INNS MAN OF THE MATCH: Mathew Walton
LANCASTER : 1 Randall Raines, 2 Gavin Winder, 3 Mark Squires,
4 Matthew Walton, 5 Nick Roberts, 6 Andy Garnett, 7 Keith Hartlebury,
8 Dave McVernon, 9 Russell Birkett, 10 Chris Helme, 11 Rob Shaw, 12 Liam
Hall, 13 Phil Casson. Subs: 14 Simon Ledwick, 15 Graham Shaw, 16 Darren
Clark, 17 Ian Hughes
Chester Wolves 39 v 14 Bolton Le Moors
Three sides battled it out for Minor Premiership honours in the tightest of the divisions, two of the protagonists coming face to face in the final week of the regular season.
It was the seven try CHESTER WOLVES who eventually triumphed, knocking over the reigning RLC Shield holders BOLTON LE MOORS, although there is every possibility that the sides could meet again in a fortnight in the second round of the Harry Jepson Trophy, of which Chester are previous winners.
CREWE WOLVES overcame LANCASTER and the two sides will face each other again in the Shield next week. They led only 16-8 at the break thanks to tries from Bates and Stuart to go with four goals from Leonard; Garnett replying for the visitors. In the second half, Crewe exerted their authority, Bates again leading the charge before three quarters Martin, Smith and Hoyland profited from their expansive play. Hall and Foster swapped scores late on in a highly entertaining clash.
Similarly, NORTH WALES COASTERS and BLACKPOOL SEA EAGLES will face each other again next week in the Lancashire resort after both sides picked up their first point of the season in a thrilling draw sharing sixty points, Blackpool coming from 13-4 down in the early stages.
WIDNES SAINTS duly grabbed top spot but were made to fight all the way
by rapidly improving LIVERPOOL BUCCANEERS.
The View From The Axe - Rob Shaw
Saturdays game brought to close a much-improved season for the Lancaster club.
With last weeks victory giving the lads a much needed confidence boost, Lancaster travelled south with the belief that Crewe could be overcome despite the loss of a couple of players due to injury. However, Crewe proved to be a much tougher nut to crack than their league position would suggest. Both sides had the additional motivation to fight for home advantage in next weeks playoffs; this was demonstrated in the fierce early exchanges between the forwards.
On the wide-open spaces of Winnington Park, Crewe slowly gained the upper hand, but tellingly, the exertions in the opening stanza had taken their toll on the Lancaster players. It was clear by the end of the game that the fitness of the Wolves pack was superior. This is an area that as a club we need to be looking at next year.
This game also saw the significant return to playing for the inspirational Darren Clarke. Darren has been missed this season since breaking his ankle whilst playing for Ireland. Darrens experience added a steely edge to the Lancaster pack, but even this was not enough to overcome the mobile Crewe forwards.
Mathew Walton continues his progress at the club. Despite only being with us a few weeks, Mathew has slotted into the centre berth with ease, and has now picked up his first Man of the Match award.
Lancaster 6th place finish is a clear improvement on the wooden spoon that we picked up last year, which can be put down to the hard work of the players and management team. Lancaster now face a tough return journey to Crewe in the 5th vs. 6th playoff. The winners have the luxury of a week off whilst the losers face the winners of the 7th vs. 8th playoff. If all results in the playoffs go in favour of the higher placed team, we will be playing Crewe for a third time in four weeks in a couple of weeks time! However, sport is seldom so predictable.
Next week we welcome back Matt Craven into the centres and Greg Sykes will probably feature at half back, but myself and Andrew Raines will be missing through injury, whilst Ian Hughes and the Man of the Match Mathew Walton are both unavailable so there will be more disruption to the team which is sure to test the clubs resolve.