Bell takes a sound beating

Rugby League: Wigan 38 Leeds 18; Regal Trophy: Wigan peerless as Connolly inspires holders to a rout of Yorkshire rivals
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The Independent Online
Tight grip: Wigan's Henry Paul is held by Leeds' George Mann in the Regal Trophy semi-final Photograph by ANDREW VARLEY

DEAN BELL now knows to his cost what it is like on the other side of the wall at Wigan - the wall that separates the winning from the losing dressing room. Bell's first return as a coach to the scene of so many of his playing triumphs ended in disappointment, if not disgrace, as his old club progressed into the final of the Regal Trophy more imperiously than the final scoreline shows.

"Now I know how everybody else feels," said Bell, who had eight years as a Wigan player. "It's not pleasant, but it just gives me more reason to bridge the gap. Some other Leeds sides of the past would have thrown in the towel at 20-0. We didn't do that and I take some encouragement from that."

This semi-final was a contest for the first 20 minutes and, if there was something almost condescending about the way Wigan let Leeds achieve a measure of respectability in the last quarter, the beaten Yorkshire men deserve credit for keeping going to the end.

The middle section of the game, however, showed just how wide remains the gulf to which Bell referred. The hard truth is that Leeds are no closer to finding the formula that would enable them to beat Wigan in a major match. That is not to say that they do not know what is required. "We knew we had to come here and avoid making mistakes," said Neil Harmon, their prop forward.

Unfortunately, Leeds disregarded that rule to allow Wigan to develop the sort of crushing momentum that brought three tries in nine minutes and effectively decided the outcome. Barrie McDermott knocked on to give Wigan possession for Shaun Edwards to send in Martin Hall and then Marvin Golden fumbled Gary Connolly's kick to let Henry Paul steal in. The last of the trio needed little outside assistance, Edwards' precise chip kick almost leaping into the arms of Kris Radlinski to leave the defence stranded.

Leeds' most experienced player, Garry Schofield, showed how completely they had lost the plot by getting himself sin-binned for the now illegal ploy of striking for the ball and when Wigan led 32-0, 10 minutes into the second half, the brilliant Connolly providing a try for Jason Robinson after scoring one himself, an avalanche comparable with St Helens' 80 points against Warrington in the first semi-final was a possibility.

Leeds showed some of the determination that has been missing in the past by registering their first points through Harmon's try, even though Connolly crowned a superb personal display with a 60-yard effort soon after. The only blemish on his afternoon was his sin-binning for interfering at the play-the-ball and, with 12 men and nothing left to prove, Wigan were susceptible to Leeds' quest for some salvaged pride.

Adrian Morley was one of Leeds' young players who did produce an encouraging display, and he went in for one try before George Mann managed two more, all in the space of the last 13 minutes.

Those tries came too late to change the fundamental message of the afternoon: that there is still a vast chasm between Wigan and any of their nearest challengers. Neither did they affect Bell's prediction for next Saturday's final against St Helens. "It's got to be a Wigan victory," he said. "You can't bet against them, can you?"

Wigan: Connolly; Robinson, Tuigamala, Radlinski, Offiah; Paul, Edwards; Skerrett (Dermott, h-t), Hall, O'Connor (Smyth, 71), Quinnell, Cassidy, Haughton.

Leeds: Holroyd; Fallon, Cummins, Innes, Golden; Mann, Schofield; Harmon (McDermott, 66), Lowes, McDermott (Howard, 30), Morley, Field, Forshaw (Shaw, 30).

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).