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York 9s 26/27th June 2004

Lancaster again underlined their prowess on the rugby league nine-a-side circuit in the International York 9s at the weekend. For the second successive year, the club emerged from the group stages to enter the knock out stages of the Lord Fairfax Cup; an achievement that guarantees their entry into the 2005 competition.

The event drew teams from France (including 2003 champions Lezignan), West Indies, South Asia and sides from all over the UK. Lancaster, drawn with York Rugby Union, Avignon and Glasgow, took the backbone of their Summer Conference team and also included former player Ben Burns who now lives in York.

An early try from Rob Shaw against York was the perfect start to the competition. A break from Dave McVernon did the damage and Shaw provided the support to score in the corner. York equalised soon after but despite considerable Lancaster pressure against one of the best teams in the 2003 competition the score ended 4-4.

Avignon were next up. The French side had all the early pressure but having defended well McVernon drove the ball into the heart of the Avignon defence. He slipped a ball to winger Mark Squires who raced seventy metres for what looked like being one of the tries of the tournament. However, the rain and slippery condition caused the ball to slip from Squires' grasp as he was touching down. Lancaster received the double whammy as Avignon scored two quick tries to go 8-0 up and although a late score to Squires reduced the deficit to 8-4, Lancaster had left it too late.

In the final game on saturday's schedule, Lancaster needed at least a draw against Glasgow Bulls. Glasgow were in fact made up enitrely of the Scotland amatuer squad and the smaller quicker men took an early 6-0 lead. Just as it seemed Lancaster would miss out on a place in the Lord Fairfax Cup, Mark Squires raced in for a try which was goaled by Andy Garnett to level the scores. Lancaster even pushed for a winner as Chris Helme made a clean break and surged into the Glasgow half. However, Lancaster had got the result they wanted and were in the draw for the last sixteen.

The draw for the final stages took place at the Royal York Hotel during the 2003 Champion's Reception. Lancaster were to meet up with Glasgow once again on the Sunday morning. This time, however, the Scots were too strong. Three new players had joined the squad to provided much needed size and after an early try to Ben Burns who emerged unscathed from the attention of three defenders to race forty metres to the tryline, Glasgow registered four tries of their own. In the biggest disappointment of the weekend, Lancaster had been beaten 6-22.

Defeat at this stage of the event meant entry to the York City Knights Shield tournament. The club was paired with Montpellier and the Frenchmen were swept aside by a high class display as Lancaster won 8-0 with tries to powerful prop Ian Hughes and Burns again. Only South Asia stood between Lancaster and a place in the final.

South Asia are captained by former England international Ikram Butt and are the team who ended Lancaster's interest in the 2003 Lord Fairfax Cup. Lancaster welcomed back Liam Hall who had been injured on the Saturday.
Refusing to miss out on any more action, Hall had his shoulder strapped by the doctors and bravely played through the pain barrier. Lancaster also signed their Conference player Liam Butterworth from the Army team as they mounted one final push for silverware.

Lancaster started strongly with their big forwards driving them upfield and were first over the tryline as Andy Garnett collected an inside pass from Squires to touch down. Unfortunately, despite Lancaster's protests, the referee ruled the pass forward and the try did not count. Building on their good fortune, South Asia opened the scoring but Russell Birkett hit back for Lancaster by selling an outrageous dummy and powering through a gap in the defence twenty metres from the Bulls’ posts. In the second half, two further tries to South Asia was enough to take them to the final despite a late try from the opportunistic Squires. The final score was 16-10 and Lancaster's participation in the tournament was finally over.

LANCASTER SQUAD: Mark Squires, Colin Bebington, Nick Roberts, Andy Garnett, Ben Burns, Russell Birkett, Greg Sykes, Rob Shaw, Dave McVernon, Ian Hughes, Liam Hall, Chris Helme, Liam Butterworth


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The View From The Axe - Rob Shaw

It’s a refreshing change to be able to review an enjoyable weekend of rugby consisting of a couple of draws and a victory over some quality sides. For Lancaster, the trip had the atmosphere of a mini-tour with plenty team-bonding action both on and off the pitch.

Realistically, considering the quality of the sides in the competition, a developing team like Lancaster were never going to be able to compete with sides such as the Army or the Navy. With this in mind, we set out to enjoy the tournament and see just how far we could get. Perhaps we need to adopt this attitude to our league matches too, as we exceeded all expectations to make it into the knockout stages of the Fairfax Cup demonstrating some excellent defensive and attacking skills along the way.

It was great to call upon the services of the enigmatic Ben Burns once again, who slotted straight back into the team like he had never been away. Ben is living proof that all shapes and sizes of people can play rugby if they have the right skills. Ben, who has the physique more akin to a table tennis player, makes textbook tackles and possesses pace, side-step and agility in abundance. Sadly, Ben is now studying in York which unfortunately restricts his involvement at the club.

This weekend its back to the intensity of the North West conference with an away fixture against Widnes Saints who are currently riding high at the top of the league. This is perhaps out toughest fixture of the season and will test our team’s defensive resolve against the Widnes points machine. Already this season Widnes have rattled up scores approaching the century against some teams, so we are in no doubt about their capabilities

 

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