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Lancaster Rugby

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Widnes vs. Lancaster 3rd July 2004

WIDNES SAINTS 48 LANCASTER 10 Summer Conference

Tries: Andy Garnet, Dave McVernon
Goals: Andy Garnet


Hit by a number of late withdrawals, Lancaster travelled down to Widnes not quite sure what was in store for them. They were facing the side that has twice scored ninety points in a match this season. Widnes also scored over seventy against Chester Wolves, themselves a top side and who recently put Lancaster to the sword at Giant Axe.

Top performers in the forwards Peter and Matt Edwards and Liam Hall were three of the absentees. The contributions of the two brothers in attack and defence respectively would surely be missed as would Hall's ability to cause havoc in opposition defences. Matthew Walton made his debut in the centre and Phil Casson moved to loose forward.

The absences saw Greg Sykes return to his favourite position of hooker and saw Brian Birkett make a return to the starting line up. Sykes ran his blood to water. Needing an operation on his knee, he was constantly involved in the tackling and directed proceedings from acting half back. Birkett, as well, made up for lost time. He made an excellent start to the season but has since only made fleeting appearances from the bench. Against Widnes, he was a leading performer, making a number of clean breaks and being rock solid in defence.

But the star performers were the half backs Russell Birkett and Andy Garnett. Forced into these roles by the number of absentees, they took the Widnes defence on causing them numerous difficulties. Birkett made such an impression that his opposition number was replaced and in the second half Mike Lamb, the Widnes centre, was so enraged by another impudent piece of play from the Lancaster half back that he was sent from the field for punching Birkett. Garnett, as well, scored Lancaster's first try and his jinking, side stepping running style regularly attracted three defenders to him. He was deemed by Widnes's coaching staff to be the best player on the pitch in the post match presentations.

Lancaster emerged from the dressing rooms fired up and determined to do themselves proud against the league leaders. However, a lapse of concentration somewhat typifying recent weeks saw them put the kick off out on the full and before they had touched the ball Widnes were leading 6-0. But after fifteen minutes of concerted pressure, Garnett collected a loose ball and from fifteen metres out he beat four defenders to the corner with footwork that a Super League winger would have been proud of.

Lancaster reached the half hour mark still only trailing 6-4 but at the stage of the game that would normally see forwards interchanged Lancaster only had two wingers and a stand off on the bench. The stand off was Neil Walker, bravely volunteering to play despite being a few weeks from full fitness after his dislocated shoulder in May. Lancaster's big forwards had to continue in the searing heat. The lack of extra forwards was a telling factor as Widnes scored three tries in the last ten minutes of each half.

There was still time in the first half for Dave McVernon to register his first try of the season. McVernon burst through a gap in the Widnes defence and in typical style he accelerated past the full back thirty metres out to score under the posts. Mark Squires converted to reduce the deficit to 24-10 at half time.

In the second half Lancaster started the brighter. Andy Garnett intercepted a Widnes pass to race forty metres into the Widnes half and both Birketts, ably supported by McVernon and Ian Hughes, gave Lancaster plenty of good field position. The intensity started to rise as the second half remained scoreless and things boiled over as Lamb launched into Birkett. After things had settled down Widnes scored to take the score to 30-10.

In the last ten minutes Greg Sykes was forced off the field injured. Ian Hughes and Phil Casson were substituted as well exhausted from their efforts. Dan Weston made his debut and Colin Bebington took him place on the other wing, opposite man mountain Danny Ligari Baduam. As Lancaster began to tire, Widnes ran in three late tries to emerge victorious 48-10.

LANCASTER: 1 Martin Pike, 2 Mark Squires, 3 Matthew Walton, 4 Matthew Craven, 5 Gavin Winder, 6 Andy Garnett, 7 Russell Birkett, 8 Dave McVernon, 9 Greg Sykes, 10 Ian Hughes, 11 Rob Shaw, 12 Brian Birkett, 13 Phil Casson. Subs: Colin Bebington, Dan Weston, Neil Walker



Wayne Bennett, the Australian coaching legend once wrote "The thing about winning and losing is that you can win and give a mediocre effort and you can still lose after giving it everything you have. I know which effort I'd be more proud of"

Saturday's game was a case of the latter. Despite being deprived of several would-be first team players, the lads travelled back from Widnes with their heads held high. The performance in adversity pleased the coaching team to the extent that barring any unavailabilitys, the lads who performed on Saturday will be the first names on the team sheet this weekend.

On the football field, the team's defensive efforts seemed to have improved no end. This was first evidenced last week in the International York 9s, where despite the wide open spaces available in a nines game, the team repeatedly performed with credit. Against Widnes, this form continued, where despite much intense pressure on the Lancaster line, we kept the much bigger and fitter Widnes outfit from scoring for lengthy periods through some great teamwork and at times, sheer guts.

In fact, it was not until late on in the second half that Lancaster's chances of causing one of the more unlikely upsets of the season had evaporated completely.

Spare a thought for the Lancaster winger, Colin Bebbington and fullback Martin Pike. Colin had the unenviable task of playing opposite what can only be described as a man mountain on the Widnes wing. To many, the daunting prospect of tackling such a powerful player would have been enough to ask the bench for fresh underwear, but Colin and Martin valiantly went about their duty all afternoon with a surprising amount of success, despite their combined weight probably being smaller than that of the Widnes winger.

Dave McVernon managed to break his duck for the season in league action. It was nice to set him up for a try in return for setting me up for a try last weekend!

The Rugby Football League's national development policy via the summer conference has been massively successful in introducing new areas to the game throughout the country, but here in the Lancaster we are in a unique position being close to, but not within, the traditional heartlands of rugby league.

The politics of the inclusion of a Widnesian team in what is historically a development league has always been controversial. Like Carlisle in last year's competition, Widnes have gone through the season posting high scores against teams of lesser experience, mainly due to the availability of a large pool of experienced talent on their doorstep.

Carlisle, like Lancaster can genuinely claim to be development areas, (with the demise of previous RL regimes in both cities), but any visit to Widnes reveals a Superleague outfit with a rich history and numerous successful amateur clubs, such as the St Maries outfit on which the Widnes Saints team is based. Widnes is nearly as famous for its rugby league as it is for its stinking chemical factories - it's hardly a development area.

We are lucky that we have the quality of players that can come within 30 odd points of Widnes, a score which does the development of rugby league in Lancaster no harm at all. Indeed such a contest provides a challenge to our players, and a useful measure of how far we have come in our short recent history. However, when Widnes post 98 points past brand new teams, like they have done this year, one has to question the value of such an experienced outfit in a development league.

The players on the receiving end of such scores would have learnt little, if any, and the league already has too many teams in it for the short playing window that is the summer season. I do hope in future the RFL considers more carefully its policy of including teams from the heartlands in the summer conference.

This coming weekend we host the North Wales Coasters, a team who started off with a bit of a struggle, but now appear to have recruited heavily. Last weekend they lost by just 10 points to second placed Bolton-le-moors, making a mockery of their lowly league position. Lancaster Vs North Wales Coasters Kicks off 2.30PM, at Giant Axe Stadium.

North West Division Summary

LIVERPOOL BUCCANEERS overcame an early ten point deficit to register a fine win at CREWE WOLVES. Nick Martin and Mark Roberts got the Wolves off to a flyer, Dave Picton and Mark Yates responding in the second quarter to give the visitors a narrow lead at the break. Liverpool's bigger pack got on top, Daryl Lacey and Mark Radcliffe adding tries, Chris Stuart keeping Crewe in the game. In the closing stages, Buccaneers half backs Kevin Picton and Dave Pickering emphasized their midfield dominance with touchdowns.

NORTH WALES COASTERS maintained thier improvement, just going down to BOLTON LE MOORS. The hosts led 14-10 at the interval courtesy of tries to Craig Hammonds and a superb solo effort from stand off Lee Smith but two tries by Dave Hindley and player/coach Martin Fisher on the resumption gave the initiative to the visitors. Hooker Craig Kay crossed twice for Bolton, Ryan Kelly and Grant Dooney their other scorers; Craig Millington registering a double for the Coasters.

Second rower John Williams was the star for CHESTER WOLVES as they remained in a three-way tie at the top bagging five touchdowns in a comprehensive win over BLACKPOOL SEA EAGLES. Chris Goggan scored on his debut as the Wolves ran in 14 touchdowns; John Welch, Willem Wilbers, Andy Rawlinson, Clive Coppiga, Duncan Curphey with two and Bob Merrill all finding the whitewash. Matt Drinkwater registered 20 points from a try and eight goals. Sea Eagles' best, Carl Reynolds scored one of their tries, Mark Crowther the other.
























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